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.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.