Hovertext: “It’s definitely not the time to try drinking beer before liquor.”

Clearly there’s some sort of reference to “leaves of three; let it be” for poison ivy, but it’s still a CIDU for me.

I suggest that it’s more fun if we avoid peeking at explainxkcd until the discussion here has run its course.

From RR.


  1. Is there a handy rhyme to remember how to spell “mnemonic” without having to look it up?


  2. Grawlix: to the tune of the old song M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I:

    M-N-E, M-O-N, I C what you did!

  3. The mnemonic for how to spell mnemonic is “It starts with a silent m”. If you remember that you have it all.

  4. Looks like a mashup of several “adages” that involve identification of danger or peril.

    “Red touches yellow”. Don’t know the exact phrase for that one, but it’s to distinguish coral snakes from milk snakes
    “leaves of three, let it be” – Poison ivy/oak identification
    “red sky at night/red sky at morning” – storm prediction
    “Beer before liquor, never sicker” – Hangover warning

  5. ‘As an Astrophysics major, the stellar classes were denoted by: “Oh Be A Fine Girl Kiss Me.”’

    That’s the modern one. I remember an ancient book which had some other classes added (that are no longer on the standard sequence) There it was: “Wow, oh be a fine girl. Kiss me right now sweetie”

  6. I don’t know if anyone needs a mnemonic to remember how to spell “Lufthansa,” but I memorably once saw one such suggested as “Let us fondle the hostesses and say nothing.”

  7. “Why are the letters of the alphabet in that order? Is it because of the song?” — some comic or other, I forget who

  8. “Why are the letters of the alphabet in that order? Is it because of the song?” — some comic or other, I forget who

    Almost certain that it’s Steven Wright!

  9. In an episode of the TV show “Frasier” (which Robert nightly watches reruns of, on Hallmark Channel (though now they are not running it – so we are watching it on Cozi) he is helping the son of a woman, he had a crush on when he was in high school, to graduate from high school. He is trying to teach him the names of the Presidents – he has him memorize something or other to remember Taft and Cleveland and to tell them apart. He comes up with a mnemonic to help the boy. This confuses the boy and he has to explain that it is a phrase to help him remember about the two Presidents. Boy’s reaction – “So to remember two things I have to learn and remember a third thing?!”

    Decades ago we bought a reproduction jigsaw puzzle of the Monarchs of England at Colonial Williamsburg. At that point I had not yet memorized them in order and we wanted to put the puzzle together and leave it out. I sorted the monarchs by name – after all “the first” comes before “the second” and so on, so it was just a question of which name came next, not which number. (Robert was impressed I managed to put the puzzle together.)

    I have trouble falling asleep at night as my mind wanders all over so i started memorizing lists to keep my mind focused – Presidents, First Ladies, Monarchs of England (GB, UK), state capitals, and then memorizing them all in reverse order.

  10. Mark in Boston: Arrrggghh! Clearly it was not as memorable as my memory thought it was — actual suggestion was “Let us fondle the hostesses and not say anything.”

  11. ” Arrrggghh! Clearly it was not as memorable as my memory thought it was”

    This remainds me of a time in the 70s when Herb Caen commented that a reader had noted “James Earl Carter” anagrams to “Jester Race Along” and then two days later…. the retraction.

    (Hmm… I’ve often wondered why the reader thought it was an anagram, but I never really thought if there was something else intended…. I see now perhaps it was supposed to be “Jester Race Lamer” or “Lamer Jester Race”.

  12. In the late nineteenth century, a Boston-area music professor named Ebenezer Prout made up lyrics for the 48 fugues of Bach’s “Well Tempered Clavier” as mnemonics to help (?) his students. Example: Book I Fugue 1 in C major: “He went to town in a hat that made all the people stare.” Book I Fugue 2 in C minor: “John Sebastian Bach sat upon a tack, but he soon got up again with a howl!”

    Someone responded with their own lyric to the Great G Minor Fugue for organ: “Old Ebenezer Prout, you are a funny man, what on earth inspired your silly little plan, you make Bach’s fugues as nasty as you can.”

  13. “Prout made up lyrics for the 48 fugues of Bach’s “Well Tempered Clavier” as mnemonics to help (?) his students. ”

    I’ve never understood this. When I’m listening to beautiful music the last thing I want is to be thinking of dumb little ditties that run through my head every time I hear it. In essence this assures I was never be able to enjoy the music. And for what? That I’ll be able to hum it on demand? And they don’t help you remember which ones are which. Just that there is a tune that goes…..

  14. And they don’t help you remember which ones are which.
    “Bach’s minuet in G … major, [repeat]
    It’s set in three-four time
    and is a dance
    that preceded , the Waltz”

  15. I’m sure you music lovers can identify these:

    “This is the symphony that Schubert wrote and never finished.”

    “I ….. ‘m not an English horn. I’m not an English horn. I’m a bassoon, I am, and not an English horn.”

    “I am your fate. Come let me in.”

  16. Beethoven’s wife once announced she was leaving him. She claimed he never paid any attention to her.

    “But, liebshein, that is not true! You are my guiding light! All of my inspiration comes from you!”

    But she didn’t believe him, and laughed: “ha ha ha HA !”

  17. MiB, what fun! The one I was unsure of was the middle one, but I was ready to guess the Rite of Spring (which does begin with a bassoon solo in a high register) – but these words may have more syllables than there are notes in some spots. Or I just don’t have enough notes in my mental memory of it.

  18. Oh!, and I have always wanted to veer off into the children’s song “Daniel, the cocker spaniel” from the main theme at the start of Schubert’s 8th.

  19. Many church musicians have noticed that the notes G A C C C C C C are a very common opening for plainchant, and that these are also the opening notes of Baby Shark doo doo doo doo doo doo.

  20. I once found in a library (and for a long time would gravitate back to that shelf on subsequent visits) a thick single volume Index of Musical Themes (approximate recalled title). Like a classic Roget Thesaurus it consisted of two parts, the content organized on its own terms and an index organized by magic. I this case the bulk content was a long listing of composers chronologically, their main works by type, and a single line of musical notation showing the melody line of a main theme from that work. These were all numbered or something.

    Then to index these, he first TRANSPOSED the tune in a standard way (to C? I dunno), then listed the letters for the notes, without regard for durations or octaves, and alphabetized them all in a list, where you could look up a melody you were hearing by reducing it to its bare letters, finding that string in the index, then using the key number listed there to go into the notated main section to find the source.

    Thus the index might have started with A A A A A A A A A A A S54321. That is, eleven repetitions of the same note. Then you go into the main section and find S54321 (made up of course) was from Sibelius 2nd Symphony and the melody line of the theme would be there notated on a staff.

  21. Mitch4, I’ve got that book: “A Dictionary of Musical Themes” by Barlow and Morgenstern. In the index, if there are too many of a letter, the letter appears just once with a superscript number, so G G G G G G G G G G G G A appears as G12 A, with the “12” in superscript. That entry is B992. Can you guess the piece? “B” stands for Beethoven.

  22. Thanks! And my memory cells will claim credit for saying that the entry numbers began with the initial of the composer’s name.

    Hmm, can’t really guess the Beethoven with 12 reps. Maybe finale of the Fifth, the triumphant stomping folk dance upon defeating the third movement goblins?

    And if you have the opportunity, and wouldn’t mind losing some more time to this, could you check out how they handle that bit from Sibelius 2d Symphony, with about 11 reps?

    Speaking of wasting time (but enjoyably) , I think I’ve found a clip that shows the 17 repeated notes in WG Snuffy Walden’s end credits theme for Friday Night Lights TV show. It’s not as distinct here as on my tv in memory, but I think can be heard starting around the 18 second mark

  23. (The first time I counted those out and got 17 I was befuddled. Then thought, Oh of course! It’s 16 to complete a bunch of 8th or 16th notes in a bar, and then the following downbeat)

  24. Mitch4: The Sibelius, third movement third theme, is S1019, E E E E E E E E E A, transposed to C from G-flat major. The Beethoven I quoted is the opening of the slow movement of the 7th symphony.

  25. What I started to say was that I was a bit surprised that that movement could fit the repetition pattern , because I thought of it as a well defined melody. Yes, one of the aspects that make it so affecting and memorable is that the melody at times gets “squashed” down to just the rhythm – but I thought of that as like a variation or “development” in some sense, not something that would be counted as a theme itself.

    As you probably know, there are people who get quite obsessed with the Allegretto. Former NPR host Robert Siegel had an audio essay on this, later reprinted with updates and links to others with that mania! There are a couple CD albums of variations In jazz styles. And after I post this comment for safety, I may return to say The King’s Speech was not alone at that moment in planning to use it almost in full in a film score.

  26. There was a movie around 2011 called “Of Gods and Men,” about some silent monks caught up in politics and war. In a climactic scene they are pondering what to do, and just look into each other’s eyes sitting around their big table while allowing themselves a bit of pleasure listening to music from their phonograph.

    In the movie as released , the music is the big ending of Swan Lake. But in a portion of that scene used in the theatrical preview trailer, it was going to be the Beethoven Allegretto! When I saw that trailer, and had recently seen The King’s Speech, was surprised and thought , Well golly, is everybody going to use this! Then when seeing the actual film and it used Tchaikovsky, I had to imagine the felt conflict with the other film may have led to a substitution.

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