Surely you can recite the alphabet in order. How about naming the colors in the spectrum or the names of the Great Lakes? I could almost hear you singing that little alphabet jingle just before you thought about ROY G. BIV and his HOMES.

A few years ago, I attended a training during which we needed to recall a fairly long series of words in order. Each small group of educators quickly came up with an “acronym” to aid them in their recollection of the list. Being who I am (and being of an age at which I’m no longer concerned about being popular), I quickly pointed out that what we’d all come up with wasn’t an acronym, but a mnemonic device, a few of which we’ll look at this time.

So just exactly what is a mnemonic device, and how does it differ from an acronym? While an acronym is a pronounceable new word that’s formed from the first letters of a series of words (such as “scuba”), a mnemonic device is a learning method that uses a pattern — such as a word phrase — to help us retain and retrieve information. Also, keep in mind that while some mnemonic devices are acronyms, not all acronyms are mnemonic devices.

It’s easy to see why mnemonic devices have been around for ages (that “Thirty days hath November” thing can be traced back to 1424), since they’re especially helpful in remembering stuff related to reading, writing, ‘rithmetic and science.

For example, remembering the word “fanboys” can help you recall that the seven coordinating conjunctions are: For, and, nor, but, or, yet and so. By recalling that “Not all cats eat sardines (some are really yummy),” you’ll be able to spell “necessary” without the help of spell check.

A 1914 mnemonic device makes it easy to remember the value of pi to 12 decimal places (3.141592653589) by changing the first comma to a decimal point and then counting the letters in each word of, “See, I have a rhyme assisting my feeble brain, its tasks sometimes resisting.”

Another math helper is, “Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally,” which reminds us that the order of operations is: Parentheses, exponent, multiplication, division, addition and subtraction. (In the United Kingdom, it’s “bodmas,” for: Brackets, orders, division, multiplication, addition and subtraction.)

And the next time you have to remember: Kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species and variety for that online botany class, all you need to do is visualize “Kings playing cards on fairly good soft velvet.”

Back in the Army I had to remember the the order of the 12 colors that give the tolerance rating of an electrical resistor. You can, too, if you just remember that “Bad boys rile our young girls, but Violet gives welts to silly guys.” By doing so you have no trouble recalling: Black, brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, grey, white, silver and gold. The version I learned at Ft. Monmouth was a little different and can’t be repeated here, but it made such an impression that I have no problem recalling it decades later.

This little look at mnemonic devices is hardly exhaustive. In his book, “Starting Out in Community College,” Dennis Congos reminds his readers that there are several other memorization techniques, such as: Music, names, expressions, mode, ode (or rhyme), note, image, connections and spelling.

And if you have trouble remembering all those techniques, just keep in mind that using the first letter of each one spells “mnemonics.”

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.”

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