The Major System (also called the phonetic number system, phonetic mnemonic system, or Herigone's mnemonic system) is a mnemonic technique used to aid in memorising numbers.
The system works by converting numbers into consonant sounds, then into words by adding vowels. The system works on the principle that images can be remembered more easily than numbers.
Each numeral is associated with one or more consonants. Vowels and the consonants w, h and y are ignored. These can be used as "fillers" to make sensible words from the resulting consonant sequences. The most popular sequence is:
The groups of similar sounds and the rules for applying the mappings are almost always fixed, but other hooks and mappings can be used as long as the person using the system can remember them and apply them consistently. The magician Derren Brown, for instance, chooses the number 5 to map to the f and v sounds because the word 'five' uses both of those sounds.
Each numeral maps to a set of similar sounds with similar mouth and tongue positions. The link is phonetic, that is to say, it is the consonant sounds that matter, not the spelling. Therefore a word like action would encode the number 762 (k-ch-n), not 712 (k-t-n); and ghost would be 701 (g-z-t), while, because the gh in enough is pronounced like an f, the word enough encodes the number 28 (n-f). Similarly, double letters are disregarded. The word missile is mapped to 305 (m-z-l), not 3005 (m-z-z-l). To encode 3005 one would use something like mossy sail. Often the mapping is compact. Hindquarters, for example, translates unambiguously to 2174140 (n-d-qu-r-t-r-z), which amounts to 7 digits encoded by 8 letters, and can be easily visualized.
For most people it would be easier to remember 3.1415927 (the number known as pi as:
Short term visual memory of imagined scenes allows large numbers of digits to be memorized with ease, though only usually for a short time.
Whilst this is unwieldy at first, with practice it can become a very effective technique. Longer-term memory may require the formulation of more object-related mnemonics with greater logical connection, perhaps forming grammatical sentences that apply to the matter rather than just strings of images.
The system can be employed with phone numbers. One would typically make up multiple words, preferably a sentence, or an ordered sequence of images featuring the owner of the number.
The Major System can be combined with a peg system for remembering lists, and is sometimes used also as a method of generating the pegs. It can also 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 the major system is that it is possible to use a computer to automatically translate the number into a set of words. One can then pick the best of several alternatives. Such programs include "Rememberg" or the freeware "2Know".
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