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Mnemonic major system

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The Major System (also called the phonetic number system or phonetic mnemonic system) is a mnemonic technique used to aid in memorizing numbers. It works by converting numbers first into consonant sounds, then into words by adding vowels. The words can then be remembered more easily than the numbers, especially when using other mnemonic rules which call for the words to be visual and emotive.

The system

Each digit is mapped onto a number of consonants. Vowels and the consonants w,h, and y are ignored and can be used as 'fillers' to make up sensible words from the resulting consonant sequences. The mapping, and hooks for remembering it, is:

The mapping is phonetic, so it is the consonant sounds that matter, not the spelling. Often the mapping is compact. Hindquarters, for example, translates unambiguously to 2174140, which amounts to 7 digits encoded by 12 letters, and can be easily visualized to boot!

Each digit maps to a set of similar sounds with similar mouth and tongue positions. Therefore a word like action would encode the number 762, not 712; and ghost would be 701, while, because the gh in enough is pronounced like an f, the word enough encodes the number 28. Double letters are disregarded. The word missile is mapped to 305, not 3005. To encode 3005 use something like mossy sail.

Example: to remember the year in which the National Portrait Gallery in London was opened (1856), we first perform the mapping:

 1 -> d,t,th 8 -> f,v 5 -> l 6 -> j,sh,soft ch,dg,zh,soft g

So we can make up daffy lodge, and to get a link between them, we visualize the Portrait Gallery as a lodge in which Daffy Duck is relaxing. The more silly the image, the easier it is to recall. Going the other way, we can easily reverse the mapping to get the year.

The system works also very well with phone numbers. One would then typically come up with multiple words, preferably a sentence, or an ordered sequence of images.

The Major System can be conveniently combined with a peg system for remembering lists, and is sometimes used also as a method of generating the pegs. And, of course, it can be combined with other memory techniques such as rhyming, substitute words, or the method of loci. Repetition and concentration using the ordinary memory is still required.

An advantage of this system over some systems in mnemonics in which the number of letters in a word (in a phrase) gives the corresponding digit is that the former is more compact--a single word usually gives several numbers, and no counting is required. Moreover, the counting letter scheme fails if the number contains zeros. Another advantage of the major system is that it is possible to use a computer to translate the number that is to be remembered into a sequence of words automatically. One may then pick the best one of the several offered alternatives, which may not have occurred to one using ordinary memory.


The major system is over 300 years old and was introduced by Stanislaus Mink von Wennsshein and later developed by many others with many variations. In 1730 Dr. Richard Grey, set forth a complicated system that used both consonants and vowels to represents the digits. In 1808 Gregor von Feinaigle introduced the improvement of representing the digits by consonant sounds, but reversed the values of 8 and 9 from that given above. The particular implementation given here is that used by Harry Lorayne, a best selling contemporary author on memory. Variants on it continue to be proposed, such as the Human Character System.

According to the wiki article on the method of loci, which is easily combined with the major system, that method was routinely taught to shoolchildren for centuries, at least until 1584, when a huge controversy over the method broke out in England as the Puritans attacked it as impious because it calls up absurd and obscene thoughts. The same objection can be made over the major system, with or without the method of loci. Mental images are generally easier to remember if they are insulting, violent, or obscene (see Von Restorff effect).

Practical uses of the system

The major system can make otherwise random numbers surprisingly easy to remember, and as such it is useful for memorizing phone numbers, addresses, dates for world events, etc. Using just such an approach it becomes possible for some people to construct epic stories that catalog thousands of digits of pi, or hundreds of telephone numbers, or whatever else might be needed or desired out of the system.

Lottery Numbers

As lotteries involve random number patterns, they can be used for practicing this system.

For example on February 5, 2003, right after the destruction of Space Shuttle Columbia the numbers 5-26-30-14-33 and mega number 5 came up on the California Super Lotto game. Using the Major System, it is easy to see that the phrase "a launch mystery, my oh my - oh well" translates into the sequence 5263014335 which uniquely partitions into the indicated draw set. Since the draw order does not matter, one could just as well have imagine saying to a parent: "Well mom, I enjoy dreams." which yields upon translation and partitioning into a set of numbers the same set, but in a different order, i.e., 5-33-26-14-30 with the same mega number 5.

With practice it becomes straightforward to link news events, to lists of numbers, to specific winning combinations. Consider for example the Laci Peterson missing persons case. If the phrase "my love may be near the bay" is translated using the Major System - then it yields the sequence 3-5-8-39-24 with mega number 19, which was actually drawn on March 5, 2003 - about the time that the Laci Peterson case was officially classified a homicide. Likewise such phrases "he told me he did it!" and "he told me I would die too!", and they offered him "a deal to have to do time?, but he said oh no no!" all yield information about the June 28, 2003 draw when 1-5-11-13-18 and 22 came on the California Super Lotto game - as does "die - he will die die die - he might have no one."

Phone numbers

Note: to prevent the possibility of accidentally printing real people's phone numbers, this article will use 8 digit numbers-all derived from a random number generator for the examples (see 555 telephone number). The method shown is exactly the same as for real phone numbers and the task actually more difficult.

Phone numbers can easily translate into short phrases or sentences that are easy to visualize. For example the number 7714-3370 would become "cooked our mom eggs". You could visualize the person with that number cooking eggs for your mother.


As an infinitely long string of seemingly random numbers, pi is a perfect practice tool, and one who is adept in using this system can easily come up with a story to memorize hundreds or thousands of digits- a task that would otherwise be impossible for most people. For example "Motherhood will be no joy. All my life-puke!" would yield 3.1415926535897- 14 digits.

Making Exceptions

Sometimes situations will arise where it is better to deviate from the system. If a perfect phrase comes very close to fitting the numbers, or if certain number combinations just will not yield good words, one may choose to make exceptions to the rules.

For the first example, the phrase KATRINA IS NOT OUR CONCERN would translate into the sequence 714202147042, which would ALMOST match the winning numbers for the same draw, except for the fact that the correct mega number for the indicated date was 24, not 42 and there is an extra leading zero inserted into the stream! This phrase serves as an example of how it is sometimes useful to bend the system slightly. If a pass phrase is discovered that is too good to resist, but it otherwise involves a nonsensical transposition, then it is often best to use the nonsensical transposition anyway - because the mental image is so strong.

The second case often arises with telephone interchanges such as 838 or 552, or with repeated numbers such as "55" or "00" combinations. Sometimes it can be very difficult to make meaningful words out of these numbers. A person living in an area with one or two "problem" interchanges may wish to make special rules for these particular numbers. For example, if the list of phone numbers one wishes to remember has a lot of 552 numbers, then for those numbers one may choose to memorize only the last 4 digits. When recalling phone numbers, if the catchphrase only yields a 4-digit number, that person will automatically know he is dealing with a 552 number. Some people may wish to reserve the letter "x" for double-zero combinations. While the sound produced is "ks" (70), if a person were to reserve words SPELLED with "x" for the double-zero sound, that person would have an exception which works for him or her.

This system is a memory aid for one's own mind. As such, it is generally better to use whatever works best for that mind than to insist on rigidly following the system's rules.

Advanced uses combining the major system with peg systems

In the peg system, a set of words is pre-memorized, and to remember a structured list, a person associates the items he wants to remember with one of the prememorized pegwords. For example, you could prememorize the pegs GUN, SHOE, TREE, DOOR, HIVE,...(for the numbers 1,2,3,4,and 5 respectively) and to memorize a grocery list of milk, eggs ,butter, bread, and catsup, you would visualize a gun shooting a stream of milk, an egg wearing shoes, a tree with sticks of butter on it, a door made of bread, and bees flying out of a catsup bottle. For a more detailed explanation see Mnemonic peg system.

The major system is often used to generate pegs because other methods such as rhymes are severely limited in the number of pegwords that can be produced. In addition being used to simply generate pegs, the major system can also be used to convert numeric data into meaningful words that can further be associated with pegs to memorize more structured information such as charts and tables.


In several of his books, Harry Lorayne describes a double peg-system that can be used to quickly memorize an entire deck of cards. One peglist is for the numbers 1 through 52, and the other is for the cards. The card pegs are constructed with the first letter of the peg coming from the suit name and the following sound from the card's number (1 through 9, 0 for 10, and special rules for face cards) For example if the pegword for 7 is "cow" and the pegword for the 5 of hearts is "hell" one could picture a cow in hell to know that 5 of hearts is 7th in the deck.

Periodic table

The periodic table provides an example of just how well-structured this memorized information can become.

Using the major system a peglist can be constructed for the numbers 1 through 118, and these pegs can be associated with the names of the elements (or with a pun on their symbols). If the pegword for 76 is "coach" then it is easy to remember that osmium's atomic number is 76 by imagining Ozzy Osbourne as a coach. If your peg for 86 is fish, you could remember that radon's atomic number is 86 by visualizing a radioactive fish. This can be expanded further by using the major system to make words out of the atomic mass. You could picture a disappointed fisherman looking at the glowing 3-eyed fish he just caught and yelling "NO!NO!NO!" about his "sad catch" to remember that radon has a mass of 222.0176 (no no no sad catch)

See Also

Mnemonic dominic system


  • Lorayne, Harry and Lucas, Jerry, The Memory Book: The Classic Guide to Improving Your Memory at Work, at School, at Play Ballantine Books; Reissue edition (1996) ISBN 0-345-41002-5.
  • History of the Major System
  • Mind Tools - The Major System
  • Pseudonumerology Totally dedicated to the Major System.
  • University of Amsterdam - Online Memory Improvement Course is an online step-by-step tutorial of the Phonetic Mnemonic System
  • Human Memory Online training for the Major System

External links


  • 010 Memorizer A powerful program for using the Major System. Contains many features.
  • MajorTeach is free (and Free) portable software to help you learn the Major System
  • 2Know is free Windows software for converting numbers to words (English, German, French).
  • Mnemisis Another free mnemonic program - runs on Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows


  • Memory Improvement and Learning Information
  • Memory Master
  • Expand your Peg list by adding colors and smells, textures.
  • Homepage of World Memory Championships
  • Online keyword search Find phonetic major system keywords for 13,000 numbers with this simple database search tool
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