• mnemonic •
nee-mah-nik • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Related to memory. 2. Aiding or intended to aid recall, such as recalling temple as a mnemonic device to jog template when this word is mentally blocked, or the poem Hickory Dickory Dock to help remember hickory.
Notes: As we age, what do we do when we even forget our mnemonic devices? Mnemonic is the adjective for mnemon "a single recollection", used mostly in psychology. Mnemonics is the study or development of systems of improving memory, and mnemonicon is another word for "mnemonic device". The adverb is mnemonically, with the required empty suffix -al before the adverb suffix -ly.
In Play: Today's word is used mostly in the phrase mnemonic device: "Lucinda Head needs a mnemonic device to remember her own name." However, it still means more broadly "related to memory": "The mnemonic powers of Noah Zarque seem to be dwindling as he ages."
Word History: Today's Good Word is Greek mnemonikos "of or related to memory", touched up a bit for English speakers. This word comes from mnemon "a single recollection", which is, in turn, from mneme "memory, memorial, a remembrance". The root of this word appears in two other Greek words that English borrowed: amnesia and amnesty, the process of forgetting crimes. (The prefix a- means "not" in Greek.) This word reached Greek from PIE men- "to think", which came to English as mind. We also see it in the borrowings mental and the suffix -ment. In Old Persian it turned into mazda- "wise". It manifested itself in Sanskrit mantrah "prayer, hymn", which English borrowed as mantra "a frequently repeated phrase". (I don't need a mnemonic device to remember the name of Jeremy Busch, for he is a member of our editorial board and a regular contributor of Good Words like today's and active in the Alpha Agora.)
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