Suppose you are an absolute beginner in the arts of memory. It is easy to assume that everything you find will be abstract for you. Do not get me wrong, there are things I also find hard to remember. Especially phonetic sequences from languages I am not familiar with. If this is something simple, you do not need me: all you need is to use Google properly.
How it hit me
One of my students said that the word “awake” is abstract to him. No judgment. I find the word Axolotl impossible to remember and use “Mexican salamander” each time I need it. I get the visuals easily but the words itself is phonetical prohibitive for me.
So why not just use google image search to find a visual for “awake”? Usually, we do not teach this. Not every word provides a delightful google image and we want our students to be prepared to face the most difficult words. But if a person finds the word “awake” abstract, surely there are plenty of images about it. The original images were a bit boring, so I put “awake funny” and got a delightful selection of images. You are welcome to try this, with a focus on image search.
Related to the etymology method
We always teach our students the etymology method. Write the word followed by the keyword “etymology” and you get a wonderful history of the words. Most words originate in Latin or Greek, so with time, some understanding of these languages is almost guaranteed. This is a wonderful method for most words we find abstract.
For example, using the word “contemplation” means “with temple” and addresses thinking. So the immediate visualization is putting a thinking man statue by Rodin on a temple instead of a large amorphous block.
Only etymology deals with the way the word is created. It is nice, but not always necessary
Wait. Once again I did a small substitution trick. I put “thinking statue” in the search engine in my brain and got the image. If I had less art-related knowledge I could do the same in Google.
Arts and popular culture are something I am passionate about not only because of the esthetic factors, the joy of collecting (I have a small museum of curiosities at home) or creating (I made hundreds of art pieces and had several exhibitions when I was young). Arts can be incredibly useful for memory.
Simply put “thinking statue” and you get a thinking man. Put “joke pop art” and you get the image of the Joker. Maybe not the first image, not immediately, but on the first page.
Want to remember a political figure? You can write the name of the person and the word satire. Like “Biden satire” or “Biden meme”. Try it. Will not work for less famous people, but is wonderfully refreshing for world leaders. Again, do not take the first image. Maybe the image that works for you will be on the second page of the image search.
Exaggeration is one of the best ways to remember things. It is also one of the best ways to understand things intuitively. Focus on the 3 most prominent features and exaggerate them. Or see how others do this. Otherwise, you are advised to learn the subject really well.
As we add details, some visualizations become harder. We can often use an object visualization with two details. You can put this in a google image search, for example, “old green ship”. This does not promise a very interesting result. So it makes sense to generate very specific visualizations. Add the word “fantasy” or “concept” and suddenly you get a very unique object.
Alternatively, find a material that incorporates features of the adjectives. For example, use the word “jade” instead of “old green” and you get something very unique.
If you need to remember a generic item or generic company it does not work very well. Instead, you may want a very specific product. For example “electric car” is not something easy to remember, but the “newest tesla model” is more memorable, and the “monster tesla model” is still more memorable. A “solar car” is yet more memorable, but a bit niche. Do an image search with the keywords here and think about which you prefer.
The trick is to substitute a generic brand with a specific brand and add unique descriptors. It is easy to go wrong with unique descriptors. For example, if your write “the most expensive” and the name of a generic item, you may get something that does not even look like the generic item. Try ‘the most expensive pen” vs “uniball pen”. The uniball pen will probably be easier to remember.
TML stands for three meaningless letters. Many acronyms are three letters long.
Legal words in image searches typically produce books and papers and stamps. This is annoying. “memorandum of understanding” and “letter of intent” will immediately produce legal templates. Nothing to work with. Adding the word “funny” might work occasionally. Instead, substitute it with some hilarious situation or formulation, or acronym and look for it. MOU is a strange brand of Eskimo boots. Just write MOU and see the books. For LOI the first association of google is not a boot. But if you write “loi boot” or “loi shoe” you will get something very special, sporty, and colorful. “regulation boot” will produce paratrooper jump boots and so on.
It is a different form of productization, where acronyms become brand names of items we use every day. Each three-letter word can have multiple meanings. Here we do not use disambiguation, quite the opposite.
It may be very hard to come up with a visualization for scientific words. Scientists try to face the same problem and often provide a solution. It is one thing to see a colorful periodic table, and it is very different to take something from it. Let us take one of them, say Vanadium, 23V. It is a hard silvery metal used in some knives. Etymology leads to an old name of the god Freya, not very good. “vanadium ore” or “vanadium jewelry” produces something crystalline we can try to remember, but it has nothing to do with the material. “vanadium uses” generates gears, a plane and a set of wrenches. Better. “vanadium v shape” generates better visualizations, some of which are actually usable.
The idea is to image search while adding basic properties or applications. The more you know or want to encode the easier the process. Adding letters and syllables associated with the subject may help. Alternatively, you may want to remember as-is, which I sometimes call a logical marker.