MAKE Asks: Mnemonics


Make: Asks is a weekly column where we ask you, our readers, for responses to maker-related questions. We hope the column sparks interesting conversation and is a way for us to get to know more about each other.

Back in school they taught us “My very excellent mother just served us nine pizzas,” to remember the order of the planets from the sun (though now we have to remove Pluto of course).

This week’s question: What scientific or technical mnemonics have you retained, and do you use any on a regular basis?

Post your responses in the comments section.

88 thoughts on “MAKE Asks: Mnemonics

  1. SOH CAH TOA

    Sine = Opposite ÷ Hypotenuse
    Cosine = Adjacent ÷ Hypotenuse
    Tangent = Opposite ÷ Adjacent

    Sex On Hard Concrete Always Hurts The Old Ass. Sorry it’s crude but it stuck in my childish schoolboy brain :)

  2. My Dad taught me how to remember the first thirty elements… It wasn’t a mnemonic per say, but just all the symbols sounded out and a few extra vowels thrown in to string it all together: “H-He, Li BBe’CNOFlNe, NaM(e)g AlSi PSClAr, K-Ca, SC(i)Ti V(ee)CrMn, Fe, CoNiCuZn”. I guess it might be better if I recorded and posted a sound bite, but hopefully you get the idea.

    1. Joe: Same here (although I came up with that one myself). I don’t get much use out of the 4th line, but knowing LiBeBCNOFNe NaMgAlSiPSClAr by heart comes in surprisingly useful sometimes.

      Related: CHNOPS are the six elements essential for all life – nicely clustered on the periodic table (other than H). If you know their order on the periodic table, you can easily figure out molecular weight of any biochemical, figure out which gases are lighter (e.g. CH4 vs CO vs N2 vs O2 vs CO2), etc.

  3. My new favorite is a mnemonic I learned from the book How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown to remember the order of the planets sans Pluto: “Mean very evil men just shortened up nature.”

  4. My GCSE Physics teacher taught me to remember the “Russian” name H. Helibebcnof, as a way of remembering the order of the first few elements of the periodic table; H He Li Be B C N O F. It worked, can’t get it out of my head now. xD

  5. Keep Putting Condoms On For Great Sex = Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus Species. Also, highschool public service announcement.

  6. Reistor Code:
    Better Be Right Or Your Great Big Project Goes Wrong

    Trigonometric Ratios:
    Oscar Had A Heap Of Apples (But you have to remember they go in pairs for sin/cos/tan)

    1. Bad booze rots our young guts, but vodka goes well. Get some now.

      It has the added bonus of tacking the tolerance bands on the end.

    2. My high school electronics teacher taught us for the resistor color code something he said he learned in the navy, which may explain its crude nature. But it’s always stuck with me.

      Bad Boys Ravage Our Young Girls But Violet Gives Willingly.

  7. Sir, I Send a rhyme excelling
    In sacred truth and rigid spelling
    Numerical sprites ellucidate for me
    The Lexicon’s dull weight.

    I don’t know why I remember that, but if you count the letters of each word, you get Pi to 20 places. Yeah, I’m a geek… :)

  8. My great uncle taught me “She Made Him Eat Onions” to remember the Great Lakes in order from largest to smallest.

  9. Bad boys rape our young girls but Violet gives willingly for silver and gold.

    Resistor color codes and tolerances. They taught us this in school. I doubt they do that anymore.

  10. On old olympus towering tops a fin and german view some hops

    CN I – Olfactory
    CN II – Optic
    CN III – Oculomotor
    CN IV – Trochlear
    CN V – Trigeminal
    CN VI – Abducens
    CN VII – Facial
    CN VIII – Vestibulocochlear
    CN IX – Glossopharyngeal
    CN X – Vagus
    CN XI – Spinal accessory
    CN XII – Hypoglossal

    1. I had a Dutch version to remember them, but I forgot it… However, I do remember: “Some Say Marry Money But My Brother Says Big Breasts Matter Most” to remember whether they were somatosensory, motoric or both.

      1. Ah, google <3

        Omdat Osama onze Twin Towers als Fossielen Achterliet Geven Vliegtuigen Angstige Herinneringen (Because Osama left our Twin Towers behind as fossils, planes give scary memories).

  11. I don’t need much of a mnemonic for resistor codes, I just remembered
    First Black, Brown,
    Then ROYGBIV without the I for Indigo (so, ROYGBVvVvVvV! as we said in high school)
    Then Gray, White.
    The ends are not too hard for me to remember, especially since they go from dark to light.

  12. Not strictly technical, but here goes –

    I Don’t Play Loud Music After Lunch.

    The 7 modes in music – Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian.

  13. Some Lovers Try Positions That They Cannot Handle. The bones of the wrist:Scaphoid Lunate Triquetrum Piziform Trapezium Trapezoid Capitate Hamate.

  14. Kings play chess on floating glass spheres: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species.

    Oh, Oh, Oh, To Touch And Feel V*rgin Girls’ V*ginas and Hymens
    For the 12 cranial nerves: Olfactory; Optic; Oculomotor; Trochlear; Trigeminal; Abducens; Facial; Vestibulocochlear; Glossopharyngeal; Vagus; Accessory; Hypoglossal

  15. This is the best mnemonic I’ve seen for pi. I think it won a a contest once upon a time.

    Now I will a rhyme construct,
    By chosen words the young instruct.
    Cunningly devised endeavour,
    Con it and remember ever.
    Widths in circle here you see,
    Sketched out in strange obscurity.

    Sadly this lovely rhyme doesn’t work for the Americans in the crowd as they seem to think ‘endeavour’ should be spelled ‘endeavor’.

  16. to remember the four fluids in the human body.
    Penut Butter With Bread
    Plasma Blood Water Bile

    I never really use this but I can’t forget it either.

  17. Monsters Eat Pupils but prefer Hairy Haggises Occasionally = Methane, Ethane, Propane, Butane, Pentane, Hexane, Heptane, Octane. My Chemistry teacher would be proud!

  18. Mother Very Thoughtfully Made A Jelly Sandwich Under No Protest

    from Heinlein’s excellent “Have Spacesuit Will Travel”. It has the added attraction of reminding me where the asteroid belt is.

  19. These are mnemonics I remember but I haven’t used them in years.
    Never Eat Shredded Wheat (North East South West)
    Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge / FACE (Lines and spaces on a treble clef musical scale)
    Better Be Right Or Your Great Big Venture Goes Wrong (Black Brown Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Violet Gray White, Resistor colour code)
    Pussy Cat On Fence Got Shot (Phylum Class Order Family Genus Species)

  20. All altruists gladly make gum in gallon tanks. Aldohexoses (Allose, altrose glucose and so forth), together with rules on how to flip their projections in order to remember their stereo chemistry..

  21. Nice question. OSi AlFe CaNaK Mg. Order of abundance of elements in the Earth crust !!! Rolls off the tongue once you get it. METhChemMEm from TRIZ. Mechanical, Electrical, Thermal, Chemical, Magnetic and Electomagnetic (waves-light, x-rays etc). The categories of natural forces we embody or use to create effects (functions) in engineered/human systems. Part of the TRIZ idea of directed technological evolution. See

  22. ELI the ICE man

    Voltage (E) leads Current (I) in an Inductor (L).
    Current leads Voltage in a Capactor (C).

    I haven’t used it in so long that I can’t remember what I used it to calculate. I still remember it though.

  23. My Dear Aunt Sally
    For the order of arithmetic operations (multiplication, division, addition, subtraction). I sometimes still use this to reduce the parens in code.

  24. I’m afraid the only one ever to stick in my mind is a bit rude:

    Some guy f—ed our cat, poor kitty
    species genus family order class phylum kingdom

    1. Also, PMAT (Pablo made a taco.) for the phases of meiosis and mitosis. Prophase Metaphase Anaphase Telophase

  25. My dad taught me this one when I was in high school physics.

    In fourteen hundred ninety two
    Columbus sailed the ocean blue
    divide that son of a bitch in two and that’s how many watts there are in a horsepower. (746).

  26. Ohms law was always hard for me because the letters don’t make sense. So I’ve started to remember: America is Victory over Repression: A = V / R. It’s a “america” focused.

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In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens' educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program.

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