Mnemonic is a funky-looking term for a device that helps memory retrieval, but how did we ever start using such a weird word? Our story begins in 1672, when polymath Robert Hooke wrote in his diary that he used a book of mnemonic poetic verses. That's the first attestation of the word we have, but it probably existed in the English language for a bit before that. Whatever the case, it was rapidly adopted in Britain, becoming a noun by the 1840s. When it was first used by Hooke and others, mnemonic was a Latinized version of the Greek word mnemonikos, which meant "of or pertaining to memory". The root there is mneme, or "remembrance", which, through Proto-Hellenic, is thought to derive from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction men, which we've seen before as having a definition of "think". Usage of the word mnemonic peaked in the 1980s and has been decreasing since.
Adam Aleksic, an incoming freshman at Harvard University, has been described as the internet's sixth most famous etymologist. He has disturbing interests in linguistics, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law, and he loves writing about himself in the third person.
The Etymology Nerd