I’ve tried hard in this column, it hasn’t been easy to resist the
I mean to
say, how does a logophile go on ignoring particular trends in modern
English usage? A few infractions, I suppose, are not so difficult to
overlook, but all one can do when confronting the other abominations is,
as I said in Issue 43 (May 2004), “partly clothe my complaint in
word mnemonic and its derivatives, for example. You may recall
that it’s come up before in our mag, in one of Fizzgig’s “Kwizzes”
(Issue 31, May 2002) and in Issue 5, January 1998, where this column
treated you to Bikwil’s very own “self-referential definition
(all rights reserved), henceforth to be taught worldwide as the only
true and useful meaning of acronym”.
from the Greek for “remember”, this lovely word mnemonic has been
with us from at least the 18th century, which interestingly puts it in
English 100 years before the semantically similar aide-memoire.
for the bad news: in the 21st century it’s being written in certain
quarters — wait for it — as pneumonic (= “pertaining to the
I kid you
not. In fact, when I first began noticing it (on the Internet,
naturally), I too thought that its usage had to be jocular. Not so sure
now, and to my knowledge it hasn’t yet appeared in print. Give it time.
Internet examples have a medical flavour, so it must be an in-joke among
med students, as this chest x-ray site shows:
make liberal use of mnemonics (which I call pneumonics).
that really enthral me are those written by teachers for students. (All
the following are utterly genuine examples.)
instance, this Study Guide for Grades 3 - 8 perpetrates the following
picturesque piece of plausible pedagogy:
Lukasa or memory board is a way for the Luba people to remember their
history and tradition. The different colored beads and the way they are
arranged are pneumonic devices to help people remember. Can you think of
pneumonic devices we use in our life today? For example, remembering the
notes on the piano by using initials like Every Good Boy Deserves Fun.
Use pneumonics to remember something you are trying to learn.
another earnest one, for Year 11:
are you've probably used pneumonics to help you remember something in
didn't know that
called a pneumonic! A pneumonic is a word or phrase that is made
the first letters of a sequence
you're trying to remember. For example, if you're
remember the order of the planets, take the first letter of each planet
and [make] a
. . My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming Planets.
example for children has this:
pneumonics did you write to help you remember the order of the Ten
students aren’t neglected, either:
Lorraine's] Pneumonics is a system whereby one is able to associate
picture in the
eye, with the picture being associated with a particular number.
Need I go
I’ve scoured the Internet and all my reference books, but so far I’ve
been unable to find anything vaguely resembling a linguistic discussion
of the phenomenon. It doesn’t take much, however, to understand how
might this have come about.
starters, mnemonic sounds not too dissimilar to pneumonic,
so we can deduce that those erroneously using the latter word instead of
the former have never seen mnemonic written — or, as sometimes
happens, didn’t take any notice when they did see it. And secondly,
foreign borrowings are quite susceptible to this off-hand treatment
these days, when fewer and fewer English speakers learn a second
language. I’ve even seen And, walla! for And, voilŕ!,
though that one just might have been humorously intended.
well-intentioned and unhumorous example I encountered in my working life
was the phrase on mass, for en masse. What took the cake
there was the fact that it was written by a consultant in technical
be that this Mnemonic Plague is really just an outbreak of SGLS (Silent
Greek Letter Syndome)? No, pneumonic also starts with an
which brings to mind a maths teacher I had in high school. A stickler
for accuracy in all things, he was very keen for us to pronounce the
name Ptolemy correctly:
remember that the t in Ptolemy is silent like the f