My very educated mother forgot to remember.

Thanks to Steven Schwartzman of wordconnections.wordpress.com for explaining that when English words have their origin in Greek words with consonant blends that don’t occur in English, like the pt- in helicopter, we tend to break them up incorrectly. For example, we guess that the morphemes (units of meaning) are heli-copter instead of helico-pter.

He gives two more examples. Amnesia is not am-nesia, but comes from a-, ‘not’ and mnesia, ‘remembering’ and pregnant is not preg-nant, but comes from pre-, ‘before’ and gnant, ‘giving birth.’

Amnesia reminds me of mnemonic, a memory aid like, “My very educated mother just served us nine pies,” which used to help students memorize the order of the planets from the sun – until Pluto was demoted. Now we need a new mnemonic for the planets. Anyone?

And we’ve always needed a mnemonic to help us remember how to spell mnemonic. Well, the way to remember that mnemonic starts with mn- is to think of amnesia, the word for not remembering. That’s right: not remembering can help you remember the memory device. Or something like that.

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Lexie Kahn: Word Snooper is a blog about words and their origins at WordSnooper.com.
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One Response to My very educated mother forgot to remember.

  1. Here’s a minimally revamped mnemonic for the planets: “My very educated mother just served us noodles.”

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