Neil Offen: How to remember to remember

Jun. 01, 2014 @ 07:34 PM

As she leaves for work every morning, my wife recites a mnemonic device that helps remind her that she is leaving for work.

It also helps remind her that she needs to take with her her lunch, her keys, her sunglasses, her regular glasses, her pass key, her supply of tissues, her vitamins, her afternoon snack, her day planner, her night planner, her mini waffle maker, her pedometer, her Swiss Army laser printer and her mnemonic device, which is usually in her left pocket and is battery operated.

Mnemonic devices are, according to the dictionary definition, learning techniques that aid information retention by translating information into a form that the brain can retain better than its original form, particularly if you continue to refuse to write things down. Like some people may occasionally do.

For instance, if for some reason you are accosted on the street and asked, at gunpoint, the names of the Great Lakes, you would immediately think of Super Man Helps Every One, which stands for Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and that other one.

(By the way, in case you were wondering, mnemonic is derived from the Norwegian and actually stands for Meet Neil Each Morning Off Norway’s Icelandic Coast. Sometimes it’s just Neil Each Morning Off Norway’s Icelandic Coast because, of course, it’s a silent M.)

Mnemonic devices, as my wife knows, have a long and illustrious history. They were invented, sometime in the 19th century, by Roy G. Biv, a now-obscure inventor who had great difficulty pronouncing the letter m, particularly when it was capitalized.

While they have lost favor in recent decades (mnemonically, WTHLFIRD) because of the rise of technology and the proliferation of devices from Apple that can smack you across the head if you forget to take your waffle maker with you, mnemonic devices are starting to make a comeback.

An increasing number of people have found out they are climate-neutral, gluten-free and easier to operate than a smartphone, tablet or wristwatch radio. With mnemonic devices, you don’t need to use a password and you don’t need a mnemonic device app to help you remember where you left your mnemonic device and also what app stands for.  

I am considering joining those early adopters. Like the U.S. Navy’s amphibious assault force, I don’t carry nearly as many things as my wife regularly does. But as my memory fades and I struggle to remember where I left my glasses when I am actually wearing them, I also have found mnemonic devices useful.

When I get up in the morning, I remind myself to take it Easy on the Orange Juice, which in turn reminds me to not drink too much orange juice, particularly if it’s not from concentrate.

And before I go to bed at night, I use a mnemonic device to remind myself to remind my wife to take her mnemonic device with her in the morning.

Neil Offen can be reached at theneiloffencolumn@yahoo.com.