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Armchair philosopher

The Peg System of mnemonics

A simple mnemonic device for memorising huge lists

This is a post I wrote here on Thinker's Playground a few years ago, before I relaunched the site.

The original post was a little too long, so I've broken it up into separate posts:

The peg system as Lorayne describes it, offers little pegs for you to hang information on so that you know where to look when you want to recall it. This is as complicated as mnemonics gets and it’s really not difficult. It does however require you to practice it until it becomes second-nature, just like learning to read or to count. If you’re too lazy to dedicate a few hours of practice to this system you’ll never be able to appreciate its benefits.

Incidentally, it’s the peg method we’ll use to memorise Pi and to remember the order of a deck of cards.

First, we need to find a way to represent the numbers 0-9 in our heads. Because numbers are quite abstract in our minds, they tend to be difficult to associate with images by themselves. In the peg system, we allocate a common object, a Key Image, to each number and associate this object with whatever we try to remember. The Key Images for each number are constants so once you’ve memorised them it shouldn’t be confusing.

Each number, zero to nine, is allocated a consonant sound. Below is the list of constants for each and a way in which to remember them.

  • 0 = Z or S. Remember ‘zero’ starts with a z/s sound
  • 1 = T or D. When we write t and d, they both have just one vertical stroke
  • 2 = N. N has two vertical strokes
  • 3 = M. M has three vertical strokes
  • 4 = R. The word ‘four’ ends in R
  • 5 = L. The Roman numeral for 50 is L. Simply drop the zero to give 5
  • 6 = Ch, Sh or J. The number 6 looks kinds like a back to front J
  • 7 = K, hard C or hard G. I just remember this one because seven seems like a very sharp, harsh number to me as do these consonants
  • 8 = F. A cursive ‘f’ has two loops, just like the number eight
  • 9 = P or B sounds. 9 looks like a back to front P

Admittedly some of the reminders here are not great. It’s how I remember them but it might not work for you. Just try to memorise these ten sounds though and once you feel confident with it, you can move on to applying them.

Because we have only used consonants to remember these numbers, we can add any amount of vowels around them without causing any confusion over which number they represent. By adding vowels to these ten consonants, we can come up with a list of basic objects, our Key Images, which we can use as our pegs for the numbers one to nine. Here is the list:

  • 0—Zoo
  • 1—Tie
  • 2—Noah
  • 3—Ma
  • 4—Rye
  • 5—Law
  • 6—Shoe
  • 7—Cow
  • 8—Ivy
  • 9—Bee

To memorise a list of ten items now, all you have to do is come up with a vivid mental picture between these ten Key Images and the ten items you wish to remember. So, for cigar, meat, Spain, igloo, fish, radish, keyboard, eye, bowling and guitar, all we have to do is associate zoo and cigar, tie and meat, Noah and Spain etc. Easy!

For numbers greater than nine, we do the same as before; we add vowels between the necessary consonants to form words we can easily remember. So for fourteen, we need to find a Key Image with T and R (representing 1 and 4 respectively). Tyre is a good fit (no terrible pun intended) so item fourteen in a list should be associated with a tyre.

Like I said, the trickiest part here is learning the consonants and the words in the first place. Once they are committed to memory, you can learn to memorise things using this method effortlessly. Here is the full list of Key Images from zero to one hundred. I’d advise learning them in groups of twenty:

  • 0—Zoo
  • 1—Tie
  • 2—Noah
  • 3—Ma
  • 4—Rye
  • 5—Law
  • 6—Shoe
  • 7—Cow
  • 8—Ivy
  • 9—Bee
  • 10—Toes
  • 11—Dad
  • 12—Tin
  • 13—Tomb
  • 14—Tyre
  • 15—Towel
  • 16—Dish
  • 17—Tick
  • 18—Dove
  • 19—Tub

  • 20—Nose
  • 21—Net
  • 22—Nun
  • 23—Name
  • 24—Nero
  • 25—Nail
  • 26—Notch
  • 27—Neck
  • 28—Knife
  • 29—Knob
  • 30—Mouse
  • 31—Mat
  • 32—Moon
  • 33—Mummy
  • 34—Mower
  • 35—Mule
  • 36—Match
  • 37—Mug
  • 38—Movie
  • 39—Mop

  • 40—Rose
  • 41—Rod
  • 42—Rain
  • 43—Ram
  • 44—Rower
  • 45—Roll
  • 46—Roach
  • 47—Rock
  • 48—Roof
  • 49—Rope
  • 50—Lace
  • 51—Lot
  • 52—Lion
  • 53—Loom
  • 54—Lure
  • 55—Lilly
  • 56—Leech
  • 57—Log
  • 58—Lava
  • 59—Lip

  • 60—Cheese
  • 61—Sheet
  • 62—Chain
  • 63—Chum
  • 64—Cherry
  • 65—Jail
  • 66—Choo-choo
  • 67—Chalk
  • 68—Chef
  • 69—Ship
  • 70—Case
  • 71—Cot
  • 72—Coin
  • 73—Comb
  • 74—Car
  • 75—Coal
  • 76—Cage
  • 77—Coke
  • 78—Cave
  • 79—Cob

  • 80—Fez
  • 81—Fit
  • 82—Phone
  • 83—Foam
  • 84—Fur
  • 85—File
  • 86—Fish
  • 87—Fog
  • 88—Fife
  • 89—Fob
  • 90—Bus
  • 91—Bat
  • 92—Bone
  • 93—Bum
  • 94—Bear
  • 95—Bell
  • 96—Beach
  • 97—Book
  • 98—Puff
  • 99—Pipe

Once you've memorised the pegs, remembering massive lists of items becomes trivial. Like everything else, it's just practice.

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