NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, November 17th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Up next: what was it again? Oh, that’s right! Commentator George Grant on memory devices we can’t do without in this month’s Word Play.
GEORGE GRANT, COMMENTATOR: In the age of ubiquitous social media, most of us know what a mneme is. The word comes to us from Greek mythology—Mneme was one of the three Muses, who with Aoide and Melete inspired the arts of memory, music, and poetry. According to the mythic chronicler Pausanias, Mneme gave mankind the gift of mnemonics—shortcuts to remembrance. Thus, a mnemonic device is a kind of memory hack. Various mnemonic devices became essential features of Greek composition, rhetoric, and philosophy, including acrostics, songs and rhymes, along with catch phrases.
An acrostic is a poetic mnemonic device often used in Psalms and Proverbs. Psalm 119 is 176 verses long—which would be ominously difficult to memorize. But it is divided into 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. All 8 verses in each stanza begin with the same Hebrew letter—so every line in verses 1-8 begin with Aleph, every line in verses 9-16 begin with Beth, every line in verses 17-24 begin with Gimel, and so on. Much more memorable.
Songs and rhymes are also effective mnemonic devices. Children can remember the alphabet, 26 seemingly random letters, by reciting the ABC rhyming tune. This hack works for adults as well: think of how easily you’re able to sing along when you hear a favorite old song. Bible verses, poetry, and even foreign languages can be more easily memorized when rendered in song.
Another mnemonic device is the repetition of catch phrases or proverbial sayings: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” “All that glitters is not gold;” “Familiarity breeds contempt;” “Great minds think alike;” “Necessity is the mother of invention;” “Memory holds the door;” and “It is Greek to me.”
The apostle Paul uses this mnemonic device in his pastoral epistles. Sometimes called his “Five Trustworthy Sayings” they are a series catch phrases or proverbial sayings he uses to make the central truths of the gospel more memorable: “Here is a trustworthy saying: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the chief” (1 Tim. 1:15). “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.” (1 Tim. 3:1). “Here is a trustworthy saying… physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:8-10).
Thanks to abounding grace, “Memory holds the door” and thus none of these truths are “Greek to us.”
I’m George Grant.
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