A Mnemonic Device for Electrical Students

Sequences, whether it’s the colors of the rainbow, the names of the planets, or ages of Earth’s geologic past just scream for mnemonic devices such as acronym-sentences. Some of these can be quite entertaining in their own right, and even more entertaining if you make them up yourself. For example, beginning electrical engineering and technology students are faced with the task of memorizing the resistor color code. The code is used to denote the nominal value of resistors with a total of ten colors corresponding to the numerals 0 through 9:

0 Black
1 Brown
2 Red
3 Orange
4 Yellow
5 Green
6 Blue
7 Violet
8 Gray
9 White
The sequence aligns with a rainbow and the old physics gem ROY G. BIV but with modifications at the ends. Several sentences have been used over the years to denote the sequence BBROYGBVGW. The first one I learned, over 30 years ago, was “Bad Boys Rape Our Young Girls But Violet Gives Willingly”. For obvious reasons this is not something I want to repeat to my students. Another popular version from years ago was “Bad Beer Robs Our Young Guts But Vodka Goes Well”. Perhaps not as bad, but I’ve never been one for hard liquor either.
So I decided to come up with a few of my own. I’ve been doing this for several semesters but I never write them down and I forget them before too long (which is good because it makes me think up new versions). This semester I came up with the following: “Bad Bumbling Rabid Orangutans Yelp, Gleefully Beating Violent Great Whites” (sharks, that is). It doesn’t roll off the tongue so well so I tried again: “Big Bob, Ranger Of Yellowstone, Gives Bears Very Grim Warnings”. That one’s OK. I picture Mr. Ranger reprimanding Yogi for stealing yet another pic-a-nic basket.
So whadda YOU get?

Author: jim

Jim is a college professor with a fondness for running shoes and drumsticks.

7 thoughts on “A Mnemonic Device for Electrical Students”

  1. Big bananas rise over your gentry being very goofy words
    Belgium bridges rise over yon greens bearing velvety girlish women

  2. Mnemonics have never worked very well for me – whatever neurons I need to connect the mnemonic to the object are unreliable. So I just repeat whatever it is over and over like a mantra until I’ve got it. For example T568B Ethernet patch cables: “Orangewhite orange, greenwhite blue, bluewhite green, brownwhite brown.” Repeat it for a while while chopping wood or some other rhythmic activity.
    This does NOT work for large sets like the multiplication tables, however. I never did learn those, to the great distress of my parents and teachers. Fortunately slide rules were readily available and then pocket calculators were invented so I haven’t suffered much.
    But anyway I liked the Big Bob one best

  3. I remember the Ethernet cable specs going the other direction where the roll off the tongue in a “day today” pattern:
    brown whitebrown
    green whiteblue
    blue whitegreen
    orange whiteorange

  4. This does NOT work for large sets like the multiplication tables, however.

    Probably not for most folks … but that’s how I learned the multiplication and division tables. I tried it for tables of roots, sines, and logarithms as well, but for some reason (could be lack of use, but they wore off before I took calculus during high school) those wore off after few years.

  5. The most successful mnemonic I ever encountered was one I developed myself to remind me of the first 16 US presidents (ahh, the intensely-relevant tasks set before HS students in history classes…) I still remember it and the presidents.*
    Might be worth encouraging your students to develop their own mnemonics, with a few suggestions to push them along. Since a mnemonic is really a substitution cipher, it’s more effective if the key is something personal to the individual and therefore more likely to be remembered.
    * What A Jolly Mob Monroe And Jackson ‘Ve Been! How Those Presidents Take Funny Pills: Big Laughs!
    Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, JQ Adams, Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, Lincoln.
    You know how many times IRL I’ve had to know this information?

  6. Actually, I present this little tidbit in one of their first labs and suggest that they build one of their own. Sometimes I can get the class engaged and we build one as a group, but often freshman students tend to be reticent. I imagine it’s part of the high school to college transition. They need a little time before they loosen up.

  7. The only mnemonic that ever did me any good was designed for remembering the cranial nerves. (Actually, I know two.)
    “On Old Olympus’s Towering Top A Finn And German Vaulted A Hedge.”
    The second one I know is pretty sexist and begins, “Oh, Oh, Oh…”

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