992: Mnemonics

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'Sailor Moon's head exploded once' and 'Some men have explosive orgasms' both work for the Great Lakes from west to east (Paddle-to-the-Sea order).
Title text: 'Sailor Moon's head exploded once' and 'Some men have explosive orgasms' both work for the Great Lakes from west to east (Paddle-to-the-Sea order).


A mnemonic is a trick that makes memorization easier. To memorize a sequence of names, a common type of mnemonic uses the beginning letters of the names in the sequence and invents another phrase using different words that start with the same letters. For example, the order of operations goes Parentheses, Exponentiation, Multiplication and Division, Addition and Subtraction, and the traditional mnemonic goes Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally, or in Britain: Brackets, Indices, Multiplication, Division, Addition and Subtraction: there is no mnemonic, just the word "BIMDAS" to remember. To make them more memorable, mnemonics are usually quite silly and often vulgar. In this comic, Randall invents various scientific mnemonics, some of them as suggested replacements for traditional ones.

The category is listed at the top of the box, the members are listed below that. Then there is the traditional mnemonic that children are usually taught in school to help them remember. Below the comic is one or two options for new mnemonics suggested by Randall. The top one is illustrated in the frame.

  • SI Prefixes are the prefixes for the systems of units to indicate the orders of magnitude for the given value, and since there is one prefix set for large numbers (increasing multipliers), and another one for the small ones (similarly progressive fractions), the mnemonic needs two lines.
    • Karl Marx, as visible in the comic, was a German philosopher and economist who, among other things, popularized the ideas of socialism and communism. Central to his ideas was the dictatorship of the proletariat, or the working class achieved by an uprising of the lower class, which taken literally could be done using zeppelins.
    • Microsoft's Zune was a failed mp3 player that Microsoft brought to market. It never caught on.
  • Taxonomy is the science of identifying and naming species. Katy Perry, portrayed in the panel, is an American pop music singer, whose popular songs are ones like "Firework" or "I Kissed A Girl".
  • In the geologic periods frame, the illustration is of a month's worth of "the pill", a common contraceptive. The affliction Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, causes women to have an irregular menstrual period. This can be treated with a low powered version of the contraceptive pill. Here, Randall has misspelt the word "contraceptive".
  • Resistor Color Codes represent the values 0 through 9 and are used to indicate the resistance value of discrete cylindrical resistors, with 2 or 3 color bands around the resistor body for the significant digits of the value and another color band for a power of ten multiplier. A resistor with Yellow-Violet-Red bands would be 47 x 10^2 or 4700 ohms. Glenn Beck is shown in this panel, a far-right conservative commentator in the US who used to have a show on the Fox News Network. His yelling about "Big Brother reptilian overlords" is a reference to his real-life promotion of conspiracy theories. Resistor color codes were previously mentionned in 227: Color Codes.
    • The prevailing mnemonic for resistor color codes is rather vulgar (and memorable), hence Randall's comment "none I care for". It involved Bad Boys and Young Girls, as well as a specific girl named Violet. However, there are many other mnemonics, to the point that Wikipedia has a whole page dedicated to them.
    • Be Bold is a Wikipedia credo. Respect Others may be a reference to Assume Good Faith, another Wikipedia philosophy.
  • In the Planets frame, the illustration is of Mary and Joseph, who in the story of the Birth of Jesus in the Bible, were mother and father to Jesus. However, Mary's conception of Jesus was from God and Mary was still considered a virgin. This mnemonic shows Joseph not really believing that story. Ironically the upstairs neighbour could have multiple meanings as you can't get more upstairs than heaven and thus God. Given the snarky tone of most xkcd comics take, it is likely a corporeal neighbor that is being suspected, but it is curious that a neighbor of the upstairs variety is specifically referenced especially given the lack of urban density in the time of Christ.
    • Earlier traditional Planets mnemonics included Pluto, which was "officially" considered a planet before 2006. The traditional mnemonic at that time was My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas, instead of just nachos.
  • The Great Lakes mentioned by the title text are Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario


XKCD Presents:
Some New Science Mnemonics
[Pattern of each given situation goes:
  • [Within panel frame]
    • Subject
    • Elements
    • Traditional mnemonic(s)
    • Illustrated contents of frame
  • [Below panel frame]
    • New mnemonic(s)
...there are three rows with two situations in each, unequally sized as required for respective widths of contents.]
Order of Operations
Parentheses, Exponents, Division & Multiplication, Addition & Subtraction
Traditional: Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally
[Cueball, pointing at his laptop, with Ponytail carrying a shark.]
Please Email My Dad A Shark
People Expect More Drugs And Sex
SI Prefixes
[In this section, the final words (and preceding comma) are given in a roughly halftone gray for the two given lists of terms and each respective mnemonic.]
Big: Kilo, Mega, Giga, Tera, Peta, Exa, Zetta[Halftone:], Yotta
Milli, Micro, Nano, Pico, Femto, Atto, Zepto[Halftone:], Yocto
Traditional: [Text in square-brackets:] I never learned one.
[Graph of the declining profits of the Zune.]
[Karl Marx delivering a number of zeppelins to a bunch of confused proletarians.]
[Proletarians (off-screen):] Er. What do we do with them?
[Karl Marx:] Rise!
Big: Karl Marx Gave The Proletariat Eleven Zeppelins[Halftone:], Yo.
Small: Microsoft Made No Profit From Anyone's Zunes[Halftone:], Yo.
Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species
Traditional: King Philip Came Over For Good Sex
[Katy Perry standing.]
[Katy Perry:] I'm not sure who doubts this, really.
Katy Perry Claims Orgasms Feel Good Sometimes
Kernel Panics Crash Our Family Game System.
Geologic Periods
(Precambrian), Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Paleogene, Neogene
Traditional: [Text in square-brackets:] I never learned one.
[A month's set of birth control pills.]
PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome Does Cause Problems That Judicious Contraceptves [sic] Partially Negate
Resistor Color Codes
Black Brown, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Violet, Gray, White
Traditional: [Text in square-brackets:] none I care for
[Glenn Beck holding the traditional "Nanobot Vaccine Chemtrail 9/11" sign.]
"Big Brother Reptilian Overlords", yelled Glenn, "Brainwashing Via Ground water!!";
Be Bold, Respect Others; You'll Gradually Become Versatile, Great Wikipedians!
Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune
Traditional: My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nachos
[A pregnant Mary attempting to explain things to an incredulous Joseph with black hair and full beard]
[Joseph:] Uh huh.
Mary's "Virgin" Explanation Made Joseph Suspect Upstairs Neighbor.

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The most memorable resistor code mnemonics I know are not...politically correct, shall we say. But they are memorable. Blaisepascal (talk) 19:55, 27 August 2012 (UTC)

tell pls Just some random derp 23:45, 8 June 2015 (UTC)
Bad Boys Rape Our Young Girls But Violet Gives Willingly 22:53, 24 April 2017 (UTC)
And that's one of the better ones. Some use "black" instead of "bad", which is better in that it disambiguates (that color is actually black IIRC), but worse in that it's even more terrible and has added racism. Hppavilion1 (talk) 07:14, 7 September 2017 (UTC)

I learned: Bad Beer Rots Our Young Guts But Vodka Goes Well (thanks to my college physics teacher).

I feel like he got lazy at the end and didn't provide an "or" to the Jesus one mnemonic. Also, why is mnemonic often pronounced "new-monic" ?

Mnemonic is supposed to be pronounced "nim-monic"; "new-monic" is rather a malapropism, given that is a correct pronunciation of "pneumonic" (meaning related to lungs or to pneumonia"), similar to how some people pronounce "nuclear" as "nu-kyoo-lar" (reminiscent of "-cular"-ending words, such as: perpendicular, particular, jocular, etc.).

I pronounce it as written, same for "gnome" - keeps those muscles going. (Try it with "knight", you'll get an approximation of Chaucer. Seriously.) --Qwach (talk) 02:39, 1 September 2013 (UTC)
My dictionary says it's a schwa sound. Both "nim" and "new" are putting too much emphasis on the first syllable. 06:46, 30 December 2013 (UTC)
Yes, it should be nuh-MAHN-ic (n'monic) 02:15, 31 January 2017 (UTC)

Mnemonics are actually counter-productive. They claim to help you remember something but, in actuality, they replace what you're supposed to remember with something useless, thus causing you to FAIL to remember. 03:32, 4 July 2013 (UTC)

"Mnemonics are actually counter-productive." I disagree. They provide the order to the list of already known, or mostly known, words. They provide a little extra help.--DrMath 20:50, 30 August 2013 (UTC)

The only one I ever learned: abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz. Fucking stupid brain! (It HAS been useful, although I don't recall why at the moment. (Fucking stupid brain.))

 I used Google News BEFORE it was clickbait (talk) 07:15, 22 January 2015 (UTC)

Big Brother Reptilian Overlors. This aren't Raptors or Tyranosaurs?? I remmeber any 'fear' from Monroe to they -- (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

"It's the most remarkable word I've ever seen!" 05:25, 6 September 2015 (UTC)

Has anyone noticed the Order of Operations is Out of Order? Please Email Dad & Mum A Shark? - Apostrophyx ( 03:17, 15 July 2014 (UTC))

It's not out of order, multiplication and division are one tier together. 6 x 5 / 2 and 6 / 2 x 5 have the same result. Cflare (talk) 14:29, 11 September 2014 (UTC)

I learned "Kahn's Hot Dogs Use Dead Cow Meat" as a mnemonic for SI prefixes. Covers all the common ones, but leaves out extreme ones like Giga or Zepto.-- 20:13, 17 July 2014 (UTC)

My favorite is for SOHCAHTOA: "Some Old Hippie Caught Another Hippie Tripping On Acid." 05:16, 15 February 2015 (UTC)

And this, fundamentally, is why people don't like Pluto not being a planet. Sure, it's logical, but you took away our nine pizzas and gave us only nachos in return. Who wouldn't be mad about that? 05:25, 6 September 2015 (UTC)

Not to mention the self-referential "My very educated mother just showed us nine planets." 02:15, 31 January 2017 (UTC)

My personal favorite for taxonomy is "Dumb kids playing catch on freeways get squashed."RedHatGuy68 (talk) 01:12, 31 January 2016 (UTC)

Exactly what I was thinking. That one seems to be more traditional because I got taught that back in school. 625571b7-aa66-4f98-ac5c-92464cfb4ed8 (talk) 03:43, 9 March 2017 (UTC)
Do Kindly Please Come Over For Green Soup Cosumel (talk) 01:46, 18 April 2020 (UTC)

Marx didn't "invent" either socialism or communism. Both terms predated him. Gmcgath (talk) 17:09, 6 November 2016 (UTC)

I know one for SI prefixes: Kalium, magnesium, gallium, thallium, palladium, erbium, zinc(, yttrium), for the >1 ones, and "Magnesium, manganese, natrium, palladium, actinium, zinc(, yttrium)" for <1. 10:26, 24 January 2018 (UTC)

It can be noted and I suggest this onto the trivia section that the only sexually suggestive traditional mnemonic has the only sexually non-suggestive suggested mnemonic besides the suggested SI mnemonic. (Sorry, but the more traditional version for taxonomy is "King Phillip Came Over For Good Spaghetti") 11:27, 30 July 2018 (UTC)

My favorite one is for the digestive system: Mouth, Esophagus, Stomach, Gall Bladder, Small Intestine, Large Intestine, Rectum, Anus. Better remembered as "Mother Eats Squirrel Guts Because She Is Living In Rural Arkansas." Cosumel (talk) 01:46, 18 April 2020 (UTC)

I learned "Patrick Eats Markers Daily At School." Also, from CGP Grey: "My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming (Planets)" Wilh3lm (talk) 12:58, 29 December 2020 (UTC)

Can someone make an updated version for ronna and quetta? IJustWantToEditStuff (talk) 19:45, 21 March 2023 (UTC)

Am I the only one who remembers King Henry Died Drinking Chocolate Milk (talk) 22:47, 28 January 2024 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

...I do. (EMOTIONAL MUSIC) On a related note, another traditional mnemonic for PEMDAS was "please excuse my dope ### swag"... Z1mp0st0rz (talk) 16:26, 23 April 2024 (UTC)