Mnemonic Tip: Use a Standard Shopping List as Pegs

The first in a series of short posts on new wrinkles for old mnemonic techniques. What all have in common is that I have found them useful and have seen them described nowhere else.

A prosaic use of mnemonic techniques is to memorize a shopping list. Several standard methods approaches would be suitable. Simplest would be to link each item to the next in a chain. Or if one has a set of numeric peg words, one could associate each item on the list to a peg word in sequence. Briefly, having memorized a set of objects ("pegs") corresponding to numbers, one creates vivid mental images linking each peg with an item on the list. Mentally running through the list of pegs brings to mind the items on the list. 

Or one could use a memory palace, visualizing each item at a location in the palace sequentially. This is generally what I do, using a memory palace based on the time I spent in Svalbard (more to say about this in a future post). The method works well (why wouldn't it?); however, I noticed that I ended up using the same images repeatedly, or worse, little variations on the same image, with only a slight change in location. Because of course there are certain items that I buy repeatedly, and the sequence of items on the list is irrelevant.

So I decided to turn it around. Make a numbered list of my most popular groceries. Commit it to memory, and then the grocery items themselves become a list of numeric peg words available for other purposes.

Self-revelation time: Here is my list.

1. Bananas
2. Milk
3. Dr. Pepper
5. Eggs 

Which is not to say that this is all I eat, but merely that these particular items I end up buying more often than anything else.

On any trip to the grocery store, I run through this list to see if I need anything on it. Other items go into the Svalbard memory palace as usual.

And, then again, suppose I want to memorize the five members of "The Greatest Concert Ever" Jazz Quintet. I could do it as follows:

1. Bananas→Charlie Parker, saxophone. Charlie Brown attempts to play a saxophone sitting in a parked car, but only bananas come out.

2. Milk→Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet. Trumpets emerge from the udders of a cow, swirling around until they make the cow dizzy. (Udders are generally my mental symbol for "milk"; "Gillespie" is not going to be a problem since I know only one jazz musician [only one human being, for that matter] named "Dizzy".)

3. Dr. Pepper→Bud Powell, piano. A chili pepper wearing a head mirror (my standard image for "Dr. Pepper") examines Colin Powell. Ah, here's the problem! This flower bud growing out of your nose. We'll smash it under the piano lid.

4. Kind bars→Charles Mingus, bass. Charlie Brown (him again) smashes a priceless Ming vase with a huge Kind bar. The bass that was swimming inside flops around on the floor.

5. Eggs→Max Roach, drums. Mad Max cracks an egg on the edge of his drum. Roaches swarm out.

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