13 Mnemonic Sentences To Boost Your General Knowledge

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It’s fair to say that Richard—an ennobled great-grandson of King Edward III—dying at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460 probably isn’t the most well known of historical facts. But when you retell that story as “Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain,” then it suddenly becomes a bit more familiar: an obscure occurrence from the early days of the Wars of the Roses has become immortalized as a mnemonic to remember the colors of the rainbow.

But there’s more to mnemonics like this than just remembering colors. From royal wives to birthstones, here are some memory-building sentences to give your general knowledge a boost.

1. “A BIG SECRET CONCEALS HER PAST” // HENRY VIII'S WIVES

Henry VIII's wives

Richard Burchett, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Everyone knows the rhyme “divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived” to remember the fates of Henry VIII’s wives—but which wife matches which fate? Mnemonics used to remember the six wives’ names are tricky, not least because there are three Catherines to contend with (some of whom sometimes have their names spelled with a K rather than a C). But when all else fails, try remembering the appropriately evocative sentence “A Big Secret Conceals Her Past” to help recall the dramatic lives of Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr.

2. “MOTHER VISITS EVERY MONDAY, JUST STAYS UNTIL NOON” // THE PLANETS

Until the International Astronomical Union downgraded Pluto to a dwarf planet in 2006, the line “My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming Planets” helped a lot of people remember the order of the planets from nearest to furthest from the Sun. You can still use the same line and drop the P, of course, but with only Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune to recall, how about the eight-word “Mother Visits Every Monday, Just Stays Until Noon.”

3. “HAPPY HENRY LIVES BESIDE BORON COTTAGE” // THE CHEMICAL ELEMENTS

From symbols and atomic numbers to groups and periods, any chemistry student knows there’s plenty to remember when it comes to the periodic table. But when it comes to remembering the names of the elements themselves, how about “Happy Henry Lives Beside Boron Cottage.” That not only helps recall the names of the first half dozen elements (hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium, boron, and carbon) but also their chemical symbols (H, He, Li, Be, B, C—so long as you know which elements have two-letter rather than one-letter symbols, of course). But if you want to remember the first 20 elements, you’ll have to remember a bit more about Happy Henry and his friends:

Happy Henry Lives Beside Boron Cottage, Near Our Friend Nelly Nancy MgAllen. Silly Patrick Stays Close. Arthur Kisses Carrie.

From “near” onwards, that’ll help you remember nitrogen (N), oxygen (O), fluorine (F), neon (Ne), sodium (Na), magnesium (Mg), aluminium (Al), silicon (Si), phosphorus (P), sulphur (S), chlorine (Cl), argon (Ar), potassium (K), and calcium (Ca).

4. “SUPER HEROES MUST EAT OATS” // THE GREAT LAKES

Great Lakes Map
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Remembering that the names of the five Great Lakes spell the word HOMES is one thing, but when it comes to remembering them in order of size from largest to smallest surface area, try “Super Heroes Must Eat Oats”—Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, Ontario. Want to know them from left to right on a map? Swap those superheroes for “Super Man” who, it’s worth remembering, “Helps Every One.”

5. “KING PHILIP CAME OVER FOR GOOD SPAGHETTI” // ZOOLOGICAL TAXONOMY

Unless you’re a zoologist or a taxonomist, you might not need to know the hierarchy of the chief taxonomical classifications all too often (depending on how difficult your local pub quiz is, of course). But when need be, just remember that time when “King Philip Came Over For Good Spaghetti,” or that “Kings Play Chess On Fine Glass Surfaces,” and you’ll easily recall the order of kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species.

6. “BIG GORILLAS EAT HOTDOGS, NOT COLD PIZZA” // CENTRAL AMERICAN COUNTRIES

If you struggle to remember the names of the seven countries of Central America, remember that “Big Gorillas Eat Hotdogs, Not Cold Pizza”: Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.

7. “EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES FAVOR” // TREBLE CLEF NOTES

In music, the mnemonic “Every Good Boy Deserves Favor” (or “Football,” or “Ferraris,” depending on what your incentive of choice is) is such a well known method for remembering the notes on the lines of the treble clef that it’s been immortalized as both the title of a Tom Stoppard play and a 1971 album by the Moody Blues. If you’ve ever had a piano lesson you’ll also know that the four spaces in between the lines spell FACE.

8. “ALL COWS EAT GRASS” // BASS CLEF NOTES

As for the bass clef? “All cows eat grass” is a neat way of remembering the four bass spaces ACEG, while the five lines either side of them can be used to spell out the fact that “Good Boys Deserve Favor Always.”

9. “FATHER CHARLES GOES DOWN AND ENDS BATTLE” // THE ORDER OF THE SHARPS

Another musical order worth remembering is that of the sharps added to successive keys. So while the key of C major has no sharps at all, G major has an F sharp; D major has both an F and C sharp; A major has an F, C, and G sharp; E major adds a D sharp into the mix; B major adds an A sharp; the key of F sharp major needs an E sharp; and all notes are sharped in the key of C sharp major, which adds a final B sharp into the mix. All told, it’s a bit of a muddle on its own, but if you bear in mind that “Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle”—or that “Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Birds”—then you can’t go far wrong.

10. “GOOD DOGS ALWAYS EAT” // VIOLIN STRINGS

A 1729 Stradivari known as the 'Solomon, Ex-Lambert' on display.
Don Emmert, AFP/Getty Images

From lowest to highest the notes to which the strings on a violin are tuned spell out “Good Dogs Always Eat.”

11. “ELEPHANTS AND DONKEYS GROW BIG EARS” // GUITAR STRINGS

Memorize that sentence to remember the notes of the six strings in a standard guitar tuning.

12. “GREAT ACTORS ALWAYS DEVELOP EVERY POSSIBLE RESOURCE, PERFECTLY SEIZING OPPORTUNITIES TO TRIUMPH” // BIRTHSTONES

Keep the above sentence in mind, and you should be able to remember the order of the 12 traditional birthstones, garnet (January), amethyst (February), aquamarine (March), diamond (April), emerald (May), pearl (June), ruby (July), peridot (August), sapphire (September), opal (October), topaz (November), and turquoise (December).

13. “ANOTHER TOM CAT, CAUGHT NAPPING” // ROMAN EMPERORS

Need to remember the first batch of Roman emperors? “Another Tom Cat, Caught Napping,” put another way, is Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero.

7 Quick Tips for Disinfecting Your Home the Smart Way

Frequent cleaning of high-traffic areas can reduce the spread of illness in your home.
Frequent cleaning of high-traffic areas can reduce the spread of illness in your home.
BrianAJackson/iStock via Getty Images

With many people spending more time—or virtually all of their time—indoors, it’s natural for thoughts to turn to how to best clean surfaces that might help minimize the risk of spreading illness. Although researchers believe respiratory droplets are the primary way coronavirus is transmitted, preliminary data, which is not yet peer-reviewed, suggests the virus may remain on some surfaces for hours or days.

While scrubbing isn't a complex process, there are nonetheless some areas of your home you might be neglecting. Here’s how to best approach a household scrub, as well as identify and disinfect some common germ hot spots.

1. Pay attention to high-touch surfaces and clean them frequently.

High-touch surfaces are exactly what they sound like: Areas in the home that get handled and touched regularly. Think doorknobs, light switches, appliance handles, toilet handles, faucets, and remotes. And don’t forget laptops, keyboards, desks, and phones.

2. Don't just do a quick wipe down. Get the entire surface.

Taking a disinfecting wipe to the keyhole of a doorknob isn’t going to do you much good—it's important to really scrub all high-touch surfaces. Make sure you get every available surface area, including the plate behind the knob where fingers and hands often brush against it. When cleaning remotes, make sure you don't just scrub the buttons, but the space between them as well.

3. You can use soap and water.

While products claiming to kill 99.9 percent of germs are best in this scenario, there's another option if you're having a hard time tracking down those supplies—simply mix some dish soap in water. It won’t kill organisms, but it can remove them from the surface. (And while soap and water can work for high-touch surfaces throughout the home, you shouldn't use the solution on electronics like your remote or keyboard.)

If you’re looking to kill germs, diluted bleach (four teaspoons to one quart of water) and 70 percent alcohol solutions work well. But it's important to note that bleach and other cleaners can harm certain surfaces. So be sure to do your research and make sure the product you're using won't cause any damage before you start scrubbing.

4. Take laundry precautions.

If you’re trying to be extra-vigilant about the spread of germs in the house, you should consider washing clothes at the highest possible temperature and disinfecting laundry bins. It’s also advisable to use disposable laundry bags.

5. Remove your shoes before entering the house.

This step is more preventative, but it’s a simple way to keep from tracking in contaminants. Remove your shoes before going inside and leave them near the door. It's also a good idea to clean floor surfaces with disinfecting mop cloths, but be sure anything you use is safe for the finished surface. Cleaners like bleach can discolor certain materials.

6. Don't forget to clean your car.

Even people vigilant about cleaning their home can neglect their car interior. Since you’re constantly touching virtually every surface, be sure to wipe everything down regularly, including the steering wheel and door handles. If you have a leather interior, there are auto wipes available for those surfaces. And before you go wipe down any touchscreens, be sure to check your owner’s manual to see if they require any special microfiber cloth.

7. Give your debit cards a wipe.

It’s a good idea to disinfect credit or debit cards that follow you around on shopping excursions. As with all high-touch objects, be sure to wipe them down every day.

[h/t New York Times]

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.

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