Thursday, September 15, 2011

A fun reference for mnemophiles

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, words, mnemonics, references

While I have been known to read the dictionary or an encyclopedia for enjoyment, I did not read all of Judy Parkinson's book yet. It is a reference book, titled i before e (except after c): old-school ways to remember stuff, and yes, the title is entirely uncapitalized.

Every language has mnemonics used to recall sundry facts. My wife knows a number of haiku and other short Japanese poems she learned, including one for remembering the years of the Asian Zodiac (2011 is the year of the rabbit), and there are two ways they remember their 72-character phonetic alphabet. One is rhythmic and starts "aa ii uu ee oo ka ki ku ke ko". The other, titled "Iro Wa", and actually spelled i ro ha, is a Buddhist poem about the transitoriness of life, which uses each character exactly once. Of course, they have about 7,500 other characters derived from Chinese that are not phonetic, which explains why 10-12 years of Japanese education are required before one can read a newspaper with ease.

In English, we have, for month duration, "30 days hath September...", the "I before E" rule for non-Germanic words (which means there are hundreds of exceptions, such as "weird" and "seismic"), and for astronomy buffs, "O Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me" to remember star classes in order: OBAFGKM. The rcent addition of classes R, N and S has lengthened the phrase with "...right now, sweetheart!"

The book's sixteen chapters cover all kinds of things, so rather than be comprehensive here, I'll keep it around and offer tidbits from time to time. Today's is this: Chapter 2 is on spelling words that are most commonly misspelled (or misspelt if you are really old-school). Most of the chapter consists of 75 rules that are almost as hard to remember as the spelling of the words. For example: "A Rat In The House May Eat The Ice Cream" is for ARITHMETIC. Slightly easier is, for distinguishing "capital" from "capitol", "PAris is the capitAl of FrAnce; there is a CapitOl building in WashingtOn." The silliness of memorizing the phrase fixes the two in your mind. My own bottom line is that we just need to remember the hard ones, look them up if needed, and when typing on the computer, trust your spell checker, at least a little: some might be homonyms, but that is a tidbit for another day.

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