There are lots of things we have to remember in life. Birthdays, what you have to do at work tomorrow, the plot of the book you’re reading…I could go on. But we also have to remember lots of little things that we learned as children, such as which hand is your left one and how many days are in each month. Sometimes we can’t remember all these simple things, and this is where mnemonic devices (memory tricks) come into play (can be used).
Mnemonics in English (the first m is silent) are little tricks that you can use to remember things. It’s a useful device (tool) to use if you need to remember something important or want to make sure that something sticks (stays) in your mind. There are a few common mnemonics in English that many people know. Some of these mnemonics in English we learned in school and some at home, but these are all very popular. Maybe some of these will help you remember things, too!
How do you know which way to open a jar? How about screwing in a screw? This is where the mnemonic device “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” comes into play. It’s a little phrase to help you remember that turning something to the right will close it or make it tighter, and that if you turn it to the left, it will loosen it. One of my favorite yoga teachers says “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” in class to tell us to turn our hands out a little to the right and a little to the left. Do you have a similar phrase in your native language to tell you in which direction you should turn something to make it tighter or looser?
Left thumb and forefinger make an L = “left”
A good mnemonic device for children to remember which hand is which is to stick their forefingers (first finger, pointer finger) and thumbs out, and to look down at their hands. The one on the left hand will look like an uppercase L! It’s a really easy way to teach children right from left, and adults use it sometimes, too. I used this just the other day when I was under pressure and had to check which side was my left side.
“One-Mississippi” = one second of time
Seconds seem like they go by very quickly because they’re a very small measurement of time. However, they may be longer than you think! A common mnemonic device used to count seconds is to say the number followed by Mississippi (like the U.S. state or river). If you were going to count ten seconds, and just counted from one to ten, that probably wouldn’t be ten seconds, and would vary (change) based on how fast someone was counting. However, if you say “Mississippi” after the number you are counting, it puts enough space between each number, and then becomes a little more accurate. So the next time you have to time something (measure time) for ten seconds, try counting this way, “One-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi, four-Mississippi…”
Top of the thumb is about one inch
If you live in Europe, this mnemonic device might not be so useful for you, but it’s great if you measure things in inches and feet! If you need to know how big an inch is, all you have to do is look at your thumb! The top of your thumb (right at the top of the nail) to the finger joint is about one inch long. In a pinch (when it’s absolutely necessary), I’ve measured things using the top of my thumb to see how many inches long they were. It may not be super (very) accurate, but it’ll give you an idea of how many inches something is.
Knuckles to remember how many days are in a month
This last mnemonic device is also commonly taught to children to get them to remember how many days are in a month by looking at the knuckles on their hands. Every other month is 31 days long (except for July and August, which are both 31 days long). The remaining months are 30 days long (except for February, which has 28 or 29 days), and we can remember this by looking at our knuckles (the four bones at the top of the hand where your fingers connect to your hand).
To do this, make a fist with your hand. If you look at your knuckles, the ones that stick up are months with 31 days, and the spaces in between are months with 30 (or 28/29) days. So if you start at the first knuckle at the left for January (31 days), the space on the way to the next knuckle is for February (28/29 days). The next knuckle is March (31 days), and the next space is April (30 days). When you get to the end of your hand, at July (31 days), just start over again with a knuckle for August (31 days).
Have you ever used any of these mnemonics in English before? Are there any mnemonics you use in your native language? Share them with us in the comments below!
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Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and uses some of these mnemonics in English every week to remember things.