Friday, 4 April 2014

Friday Five: Meaningless Mnemonics

This weekend Daylight Saving ends in some parts of Australia (not the whole country, you understand; that would make a little too much sense), so our clocks will go back. In England, British Summer Time began last weekend, so their clocks went forward. I have a link on my computer which I check to tell me what the time is where so I don't have to remember whether it is a feasible hour to call family who happen to be in different time zones. 

Apparently there is a useful mnemonic to help remember which way to wind the clocks (although, of course, you should always wind analogue clocks forwards): spring forwards; fall back. I don't really like this handy reminder, not just because it's American (I concede that 'spring forwards; autumn back' doesn't make a lot of sense), but because it isn't exactly definitive. If you're me (which I am) you can just as easily fall forwards and spring back, so I feel none the wiser.

And, naturally, this brings me to a whole heap of 'useful' mnemonics. One that has always annoyed me is (another American culprit, I'm afraid) 'In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety Two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue'. Yes, it rhymes, and it scans, but then so would anything ending in two, and going 'de dum de dum de dum dum', so it's not spectacularly helpful. 

Likewise the one about the months - you know: 'Thirty days has something-ember, one two-syllable month, another one-syllable month and another month ending in ember; all the rest have thirty-one except February alone, and that has twenty-eight days clear, and twenty-nine in each leap year.' Which one of September, November or December is the one that doesn't have the thirty? Is April, July or August the two-syllable month, and which out of March, May, and June is the one-syllable month with the thirty days? See, not particularly enlightening.

There is one to remember the geological eras or epochs or periods or ages or whatever they're called, which is more trouble than it's worth. I like the sentiment: 'Pregnant Camels Often Sit Down Carefully. Perhaps Their Joints Creak. Possibly Early Oiling Might Prevent Premature Rheumatism.' While I do feel a level of concern for these poor camels, there are too many similar starting letters for me to recall which era/ epoch/ period/ age is which and I only remember that J indicates Jurassic, which I probably knew anyway. 

The meteorological mnemonic of 'red sky at night; shepherd's delight - red sky in the morning; sailors' warning' is permanently muddled in my memory by my brother who told me it was, 'red sky at night; shepherd's pie - red sky in the morning; steak and kidney pudding'. And yes, I did believe him. After watching the 1989 film, We're No Angels starring Sean Penn and Robert de Niro, I learned the correct way to cross yourself was 'spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch', but I have only ever had occasion to use this when on stage.

I quite like the 'Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived' version of history which deals quite nicely with Henry VIII's wives, but it doesn't necessarily help me to remember their names, only their outcomes. However, there are a few (five, funnily enough) that I have found worth-while.

5 Useful Mnemonics:
  1. Every Good Boy Deserves Fun (for the notes on the lines of a treble clef)
  2. Never Eat Shredded Wheat (the points of the compass in clockwise order)
  3. Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally (the order in which mathematical equations should be approached: parentheses; exponents; multiplication; division; arithmetic; subtraction)
  4. Stalactites hang tight to the ceiling while stalagmites might one day reach the ceiling (Incidentally, Him Outdoors learned that 'tights fall down' but then he is a boy and he does come from near Nora Batty land).
  5. Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain (for the colours of the rainbow - red; orange; yellow; green; blue; indigo; violet. Many killjoys scientists have since argued that indigo isn't actually in the rainbow, but that makes a mess of the mnemonic, so until they make up a good new one, I'm keeping it in)
If it's good enough for Bungle, George and Zippy, it's good enough for me!