Learning new words can be kind of fun, but if you’ve got a giant wad of them to memorize, it can get a bit daunting to assign this thing to that.

Learning Greek and Latin roots helps to lead one to the right general area of meaning, but then, of course, you’re memorizing bits of words there in themselves. Association-type mnemonics can work. But some of them get long and hard to remember:

“Alimentary is like elementary, right, like the first or basic level, and since the first thing that forms in the ontological development is the mouth and butthole and tube between them, it is elementary–and also alimentary! Yay!”

What I have found sometimes is that a mental image assigned to the word is more helpful than a Six-Degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon-esque way of getting to the meaning. But, if it is effective, it also comes with a price.

Take, for example, this beautiful word:

borborygmus, n. intestinal rumbling noise caused by the movement of gas.

I could, maybe, come up with a word-related way to remember this. But instead, what came to mind was a picture, and it looked sort of like this.


And it was effective. The word, picture, and meaning all stuck in my head. Success, right? But there’s a problem.

It’s too effective.

I know, I know. This doesn’t sound like a problem. But hang with me a minute.

On to the next word.

nephrectasis, n. distention of the kidney

Mkay, so, you can start with the nephr- for anything pertaining to kidneys (and how you remember this, obviously, is by linking up the kidney to the ancient Egyptian word nefer, meaning beautiful, via imagining the bust of Nefertiti with pee coming out the bottom of her neck)…but then I was sort of lost. So. Mental image:



Yes, perfect, I tell myself, the spitting–


Guh, okay, so I was getting distracted. Elephant seals are really handsome, after all, and especially ones in bowler hats. But, to move on…

hilus, n. the depression where vessels and nerves enter an organ

So, you just make an image…


A different image.








Around here is where my brain twirled into a vapid hole and didn’t come back out until I’d stopped thinking about vocabulary and started trying to remember all the words to “Something Better” from Muppet Treasure Island.

But, it is only fair to say, I’ll never forget this word.

2 thoughts on “How to Memorize New Vocabulary

  1. Love the elephant seal. Sadly, I’m not a visual learner, and would end up just as stuck on “borborygmus” because of the sound. To me, it’s onomatopoeia, sounds exactly like what it is. However, I leave the anus blood to you. 🙂

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