Sunday, April 27, 2008


When I was in school back in the Dark Ages, that word up there in the title, all 28 letters of it, was said to be the longest word in the English language. But this post isn't going to be about words, it's going to be about spelling. Or, rather, it's going to be about little tricks that we play on ourselves (okay, that I play on myself) to remember how to spell something.

Like “theres 'a rat' in 'separate'.”

Like “the word 'weird' starts with the word 'we'.”

Like “it's 'i' before 'e', except after 'c', or when sounded like 'a', as in 'neighbor' and 'weigh'.”

Like “the word 'siege' is spelled with an 'ie' because in German (which is entirely irrelevant) 'ie' is pronounced 'ee' and 'ei' is pronounced 'eye' and there is a word pronounced 'seej' but there is no word pronounced 'syje'.”

Like “the word 'seize' is spelled with an 'ei' because in German (which is still entirely irrelevant) 'ei' is pronounced 'eye' as I said before and there is a word pronounced 'size' and also a word pronounced 'seez' which is the one I'm trying to spell.”

I don't know about you, but these all make perfect sense to me.

These helpful little tricks that we tell ourselves (okay, that I tell myself) are called “mnemonic” devices, from the Greek word mnémonikós, of, or relating to, the memory, unless it's from the Greek word mnémosýné, memory, akin to mnâsthai, to remember, from mnmōn, mindful, which reminds us (okay, reminds me) of Mnemosyne, pronounced nee-mos-uh-nee, the ancient Greek goddess of memory, a daughter of Uranus and Gaea, and the mother by Zeus of the Muses. (And thank you very much,, but I digress.)

I employ a couple of other mnemonic devices as well, but not to help me with spelling.

Like “Roy G. Biv” reminds me of the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.

Like “General Electric Power Company” helps me remember that Galatians comes first, then Ephesians, then Philippians, then Colossians.

Like “port” is left and “starboard” is right because we say (there's that “we” again) “the ship left port” but we don't say “the ship left starboard.” Also, there is a wine called port, but I haven't figured out yet how that helps me remember left and right.

Like my friend Stanley's birthday is in November and not October because his birthstone is topaz, and November starts with 'n' and topaz starts with 't', but the birthstone for October is opal, which starts with 'o' just like October. (To see how well that worked for me, refer to my post, “The memory is the first thing to go” of October 21, 2007.)

If you employ any helpful mnemonic devices, tell me about them in a comment.

Now if I could just come up with a mnemonic to help me to remember not to use so many parentheses....

Oh, and that word up there in the title, antidisestablishmentarianism, the one with 28 letters? Turns out it isn't the longest word in the English language. There are longer ones. I just happen to forget what they are at the moment.


  1. Fascinating post, Mr. Bob! It's triggered a remembrance about which I shall have to post on my own blog (so as not to hog up all your comment space.) Question: is the frequent use of parentheses considered bad writing form? Most folks tend to insert parenthetical comments into their verbal communications as a matter of course -- at least I do, all the time.
    Hope you and the lady-wife have a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious day!

  2. Thanks for the good wishes! But your word shouldn't really count, should it? According to the film Mary Poppins, "you can say it backwards, which is docious-ali-expi-listic-fragi-cali-repus". Julie Andrews, has said that her husband at the time, Tony Walton, devised this backwards version of the word in which the main syllables are reversed, rather than the order of each letter, with the exception of the end part, 'repus', which is 'super' spelled backwards. In contrast, the Mary Poppins musical play's version of the song presents all the letters reversed (suoicodilaipxecitsiligarfilacrepus), prounounced as sue-codiliap-exit-silly-garf-illa-creapus. What is abundantly clear is that the word never appeared in any of the books by P. L. Travers. (Thank you, wikipedia!)

    There are also claims about the origin of the word that are not to be believed!

  3. Oh, what an enjoyable, clever post!! Thank you!

    I learned "Go Eat Pop Corn" for Gal., Eph., Phil., Col.

    I remember using mnemonic devices alot in anatomy and chemistry classes in LPN training years ago. We would study in groups and make them up before a test. But did I retain that information over the years.....NO!

    There's another one...."every good boy does well" or something like that, but I can't recall what it stands for.

  4. Jeannelle, thanks for your contribution! Every Good Boy Does Fine (not Well) and Good Boys Do Fine Always are the lines of the treble and bass clefs, respectively: E-G-B-D-F and G-B-D-F-A. The spaces in the treble clef spell the word "face" (F-A-C-E) and the spaces in the bass clef can be remembered with All Cars Eat Gas or All Cows Eat Grass (A-C-E-G). Thanks for reminding me of those!

    There's also TULIP to remember the Five Points of Calvinism, and there's COMOS to remember the Five Tribes of the Iroquois Nation, and there's....

  5. A late thought: I heard our pastor say he uses "Gentiles Eat Pork Chops and Three Tiny Tomatoes" to remember the sequence for Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I and II Thessalonians ("Th" as in "three"), I and II Timothy (remember "Tiny Tim"?), and Titus. I like his even better than mine.