Favorite mnemonics?

Do you have a favorite mnemonic that you think is particularly helpful? For me, the one for 戴 comes to mind:

“Nowhere on earth, not even in the fields, can you wear your weapon in public.”

It’s so good! I can see all the different parts of the character clearly (土 田 共 戈) and never have trouble remembering how to write it.

Is there a mnemonic you’re fond of too? Do share!


My favourite is for 覬 (jì), which means “to covet; to long for”. I have a mental image of someone looking at the neighbour’s mountain of beans neatly stacked on the driveway, enviously think they ought to be his. “The other man’s bean mountain is always taller”, after all.

Another favourite is 愁 (chóu), which means “to worry”. Having autumn in one’s heart, worrying about the coming winter, has always been an easy association for me to remember!


That’s a good one @meiadeleite !

And this is a great question. I hope many participate so we can learn from each other.

For 戴 when I discovered that 𢦏 actually means “wounded” and 異 means “strange” , I came up with the mnemonic “wounded strange you will be if you do not WEAR your halberd

But my favourite character component/radical of all time is 隹,the short-tailed bird. This little bird appears repeatedly and is quite a busy “character” making mnemonics easier.

The short-tailed bird causes endless DIFFICULTIES for the yellow-loam person (堇 and 人 in 難), knows how to SELL with his mouth in 售,is terrified of claws tiny and big because it is only a CHICKEN in 雞,ENTERS by walking in 進,when noisy in the grass is a HERON in 雚,PUSHES with its hand in 推,speech(less) in the grass it PROTECTS itself again in 護,there’s a SINGLE one in 隻,and a PAIR of them again in 雙,uses earth to PILE UP STACKS in 堆 … and then there’s “WHO? WHO? said the short-tailed bird” in 誰。

I find mnemonics at times more difficult to generate for simplified characters because when the character components are not just simpler versions of complex components, but made up of almost random strokes I assume were taken from handwriting shortcuts, there’s often nothing to base them on except “slash left” or “dot” or “vertical line.” Such as 龙 (hand 𠂇 seven 七 dot丶What to make of this?? (Except maybe: “by hand I count seven dots on the DRAGON” I guess)

Happy mnemonics-making everybody.

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I find 99% of the mnemonics made by others to be worthless. For the mnemonics I make myself, that ratio improves to be maybe only 90% worthless. Most recently I have been shocked at words that I have forgotten despite having created what I thought were incredibly clever mnemonics. I think the best mnemonics are the ones that are based on a visual image that resembles the character, and is in some way absurd / outrageous. I noticed that a lot of users create mnemonics based on radicals, but since I never properly learned them or even tried to study them systematically that doesn’t work for me.
I really wonder if it works for the majority of the authors. An effective mnemonic really exists in one’s head, so to write it down is only to document it. When I have to click on “mnemonic” I am really just soliciting a hint. Still, I feel somewhat less humiliated when I can write the character after reading the mnemonic / hint, after being stumped by the prompt. I guess we are also training ourselves to memorize mnemonics? sigh

Mnemonics are highly personal and I never use mnemonics created by others. There is also empirical evidence to show that they are more effective when you come up with them yourself, but I can’t find the paper in question after 15 minutes of looking and gave up. However, I suspect that this could also be because you spend more time with the encoding if you do it yourself, rather than read something someone else has written.

I think there’s a fair amount of misunderstanding about the purpose of mnemonics. I think it’s exceedingly rare for students to remember most of their mnemonics. I know roughly 5000 characters and if I went through most of them, I would have no clue what mnemonic, if any, I used when learning them.

But that’s not the point, really. I think mnemonics work well as a stepping stone to long-term memory. I might not need a mnemonic to write 想 today, because I’ve seen it thousands of times over the past decade or so, but I know I used a mnemonic to learn it back in 2007.

Mnemonics also work well for problematic and rare characters. I still use Skritter daily and often come across fairly rare characters that I would have no idea how to write if it weren’t for the mnemonic I have for them (and still remember; I almost never write them down). Relying on mere exposure for learning these would be almost impossible.

What I’m saying is that a mnemonic can be good and have served it’s purpose, even if you don’t remember it! I also think that if I don’t remember the mnemonic, even after looking at the character and its components, it was probably not good enough for long-term storage of rarer characters.

Finally, I would strongly advise against marking yourself as correct for any character or word where you have looked at the mnemonic. This can potentially create a situation where you know how to write things, but only in Skritter. That, I assume, is not the goal. This is why we have things like raw squigs for non-beginners, because getting used to having support you don’t have in real life can be detrimental for learning. For beginners, this is outweighed by the positive feedback from writing good-looking characters and that satisfying feeling when strokes fly into place. :slight_smile:


@SkritterOlle, agree, I always mark myself wrong if I have to peek at the mnemonic. But relearning the mnemonic speeds up recall of the character for at least months more. Agree also, with frequency of exposure mnemonics come to not matter anymore.

@podster Just a suggestion, but I highly recommend taking the time to learn the radicals.

Once you can chop a character into its various components (whether radical or otherwise) it is a tremendous advantage in putting it back together, often aids with meaning and/or pronunciation, and makes for much more vivid/memorable mnemonics, in my experience.

After “learning” to read and write mediocre Chinese many years ago, then gradually forgetting the characters over the years, about 5 years ago I discovered Skritter. It was via Skritter that I first heard of and quickly came to value the art of mnemonics as memory aids.

I agree with you and Olle, mnemonics are most effective when very personal and produce vivid images or a storyline. It is in the act of creating them that you really get to know the character, so I find it worth the effort. I’ve found it is the best we can do with unfortunately less absorptive adult brains.