Printable Version
Pronunciation: 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, we even forget our mnemonic devices; I know I do. I can remember today's Good Word because it has a large family. It seems to be derived from mnemon "a single recollection", used mostly in psychology, but it isn't (see Word History). Mnemonics is the study and development of systems of improving memory, and mnemicon is another word for "mnemonic device". The adverb is mnemonically, with the required empty suffix -al.

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 for English-speakers. This word comes from mnemon "remembering, mindful", 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 root reached Greek from Proto-Indo-European men- "to think", which came to English as mind. 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 regular contributor to the Good Word series and the Alpha Agora.)

Dr. Goodword,

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