Quite often my inability to keep my mouth shut creates dire consequences. Well, maybe not dire… But not good. Sometimes my big mouth operates to the disadvantage of others and often it’s to my own detriment.
Recently someone asked me how to spell dessert. My mind immediately went back to the 4th grade. Miss Rucker had a clever way of reminding us the difference between desert and dessert. I shared with the person a little saying she taught us… and recalled how, for years, I screwed it up.
Even as far back as Kindergarten and first grade I marveled at the little phrases, poems and mnemonics that were shared with us to aid us in our spelling and grammar. My first grade teacher, Miss Blair, told us that, “When two vowels go a-walking, the first one does the talking.” For example, the word cream. The two vowels are E and A. And you pronounce the word with the long E sound. My friend, Nancy, who is a primary school teacher, recently pointed out to me several examples of when this doesn’t work. The word niece is a good example. So are said, weight and shoe.
Of course another one is the old, “I before E, except after C,” but there are plenty of examples where this in not true. Mostly that’s because people forget the rest of the saying, which is, “…or when it’s an A, as in neighbor and weigh.” Still that leaves out foreign, caffeine, efficient and many others. But, for the most part, that little rule got me most of the way through school. Well, I guess until I failed English in my junior year of high school.
I think my first mnemonic was A Rat In The House Might Eat The Ice Cream for the letters used to remember the spelling of the word arithmetic. My friend Ronald Zozgornic told me that one. I already knew how to spell it but I thought it was really cool; mostly, as I said, because I think it was the first time I became aware of a mnemonic device.
Then there was My Very Eager (or Earnest) Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies, for recalling the order of the planets in our solar system from the inner planets to the outer. Of course, with the recent demotion of Pluto to a planetoid, or Dwarf Planet, or “the largest object in the Kuiper belt,” or whatever they demoted it to, the mnemonic has become My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nothing. Nothing! First, that annoys me for the demotion of poor Pluto who was doing nothing to any of those damned astronomers! Simply orbiting the sun every 248 of our years. Okay, maybe it comes within the orbit of Neptune for a few years, but basically it was minding its own business and wham! Pluto is no longer a planet! But it infuriates me more so for the fact that the likelihood of being served nine pies has been completely removed from all probability in my life! Okay, I’ve never been served nine pies at any time, by my mother or anyone else, so maybe is wasn’t probable, but the prospect still floated as an ethereal dream within the realm of possibilities inside my miniscule cranium. Look, if the Universe is infinite and time has no end, then there was a chance that I could be served nine pies at one time! But if you take the word pies out of the planetary mnemonic, the idea of serving someone nine pies—namely me—becomes far less of a probability! So I want Pluto back in as a planet. The more children there are saying, “…served us nine pies,” the greater the odds that someone will someday think of doing that for me.
I like pie.
I guess I could just go to Polly’s and order nine pies…
But I was talking about mnemonics! And little poems to help with grammar and spelling. And I was telling you about my big mouth. Or, at least, my inability to keep it shut.
Roy G. Biv. That’s always been one of my favorites. I learned it in freshman chemistry. Roy G. Biv is a fictional name to help us recall the order of the colors of a rainbow (or the visible light spectrum). Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet. Roy G. Biv! I always liked that one. Someone once told me of another. Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain, but that sounds too British for me so I’ll stick with Roy.
There are some really cool visual mnemonics, too. For example, if you make two fists and hold them in front of you, knuckles up, then assign the name of a month to each knuckle and space, from left to right, beginning with January, then the knuckles (in other words the bumps or raised parts) will be the months that contain 31 days.
I learned—much too late to help my in 4th grade multiplication tables—that there’s a really cool way to multiply by nine by using your fingers. You hold up your hands in front of you, palms facing away, with your fingers spread. Then, let’s say you want to multiple 9 by 3. Starting from your left, you count over three fingers and bend that finger down. That’s the middle finger of your left hand. To the left of the bent finger you see two fingers and to the right of it are seven fingers. Therefore, 9 times 3 is 27. Try it! Want to multiply 9 by 6? Count over six fingers, that’s your right thumb, and bend it in. There are five fingers (of your left hand) to the left of the bent thumb and four fingers to the right of it. So, 9 times 6 is 54.
Well, anyway, onward to my big yap. Someone in my 4th grade class asked Miss Rucker how to spell dessert; obviously confusing it with desert. She cheerfully said, “Always remember, the extra S is for the sugar!”
Then I raised my hand and blurted out before I’d even been called upon, “Oh. I thought it was for the sand…”
She looked at me, did a double-take, and then in her eyes I saw the flash of realization that I could have just screwed up the whole class who, from that point onward, would recall her little poem and then ponder, “Wait. Was the extra S for the sugar or sand?”
She gave me a look that was equivalent to two detentions and then gave her head a clearing shake. She actually didn’t speak for about five seconds and then looked at the child who’d asked the original question and said, “Sugar.” As she turned back to the chalk board, her eyes met mine for an instant and then she continued with her lecture.
My karma for making that statement was that I fell victim to my own remark. Until I moved to the Coachella Valley where my first job was to write radio commercials about businesses within that desert, I always had to stop and think about the difference between desert and dessert. The extra S is for the sugar… the sugar… sugar…
Hmmm… It also speaks to why I like to cook but have never tackled baking…
Any favorite mnemonics or little ditties to help remember things? Share them with me below!