Nathan’s Thoughts

Major System Peg Words (Memory Tool)

This post is generally unrelated to art, but it features an extremely useful and versatile tool for remembering anything – the Major System peg words (see my full PDF list below). The Major System is a mnemonic technique which encodes numbers as consonant sounds (or in this case, groups of similar sounds); the consonants are mixed with vowels to form words; the resulting words serve as mental pegs upon which to hang (i.e. associate) things you want to remember. The following list is an example:

  • 0 – zoo (s,z)
  • 1 – tie (t,d)
  • 2 – Noah (n)
  • 3 – ma (m)
  • 4 – rye (r)
  • 5 – law (l)
  • 6 – shoe (sh,ch,j)
  • 7 – cow (c)
  • 8 – ivy (v,f)
  • 9 – bee (b,p)
  • 10 – toes

Using Peg Words

To use peg words for memorization, first learn the numbers with their sounds; then use the sounds to memorize a word list. Next create a mental association between each item from the list you want to memorize with the corresponding peg word. In your mind see the two items interacting in a bizarre, memorable way – in doing so you are hanging the item on the peg for later retrieval. Mentally-visually associating two things is the most effective way to remember something easily because it takes advantage of how the mind optimally works. This system enables you to memorize lists and recall the exact numbered position of every item in the list.

This system is very useful for memorizing passages of Scripture (even entire chapters and books) as you can create and recall an association for the beginning of each verse and link it to the peg word for that verse number. This association acts as a prompt for starting the verse.

Why the Major System?

I first learned of peg words from The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas (this book is a fantastic resource for all things memory-related). You may be asking, “Why go through all the trouble of learning a whole memory system when I can use something more simple like one-bun, two-shoe, three-tree, etc. to accomplish the same thing?” The answer is extensibility. If you only want to memorize a short list of ten items, then more simple systems are great; but what if you want to memorize 50 or 100 or an undetermined number of things? Rhyming, alphabet, and other small-scale systems are limited in their scope. Using the Major System makes expanding your word list relatively easy by providing a predictable, consistent system which allows you to move between number and sound with ease (once you’ve memorized it and practiced, of course).

Peg Word List

I’ve created a compact printout for the first 100 peg words. I started with a word list from this source (which also has a great explanation of using the Major System), and then changed some words to fit my taste. The following PDF printout contains the peg word list in a compact format four times; so you can cut the page into four sections to create bookmarks or share with others. I hope the PDF is useful.

More about the Major System

Learn more about the Major System:

You may find the following website helpful in creating your own Major System peg word list:

“Everyone Is a Genius . . .” – Einstein?

Though it is disputed who first made this exact statement, I think it was marvelously said:

“Everyone is a genius; but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Though, I believe an important distinction should be made: if you judge the fish unwisely, then you (not necessarily the fish) will believe the lie; only if the fish judges himself by erroneous standards will he believe himself to be incompetent. When we judge ourselves according to truth, we can have great confidence (with humility) despite the dismissive nature of others.

This also reminds me of a quote by Mark Twain, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” I believe God has made each person uniquely special; there’s not another person exactly like you; so try lots of things till you find what you were made for and as Jim Elliot said, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

Read more wise & witty sayings.

Updated December 3, 2022

“You Don’t Know What Cannot Be Done.” – Toland

In an interview of Orson Welles by Dick Cavett, Welles recounts the following situation early in his career. While beginning to make his first film, Citizen Kane, he was approached by cameraman Gregg Toland.

[Toland enters Welles’ office . . .]
Toland: I want to work in your picture; my name is Toland.
Welles: Why do you, Mr. Toland?
Toland: Because you’ve never made a picture, and you don’t know what cannot be done.

Leading up to his description of that brief conversation, Welles makes the following statement: “. . . Ignorance – there’s no authority in the world like it.” Welles’ and Toland’s statements really caught my attention. I’ve seen a similar saying by Shunryu Suzuki: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few”; that brings a couple more to mind: “It always seems impossible until it’s done” (Nelson Mandela), and, “They did not know it was impossible so they did it” (Mark Twain).

Inexperience is both a blessing and curse. Being blind to what is and is not possible, you may be willing to take risks more-experienced people would not; you’ll bring a fresh perspective and perhaps even attempt to do what others know “cannot be done”; that means you’ll probably fail quite a bit, but in challenging assumptions you will discover which ones are true and which are false. Young blood can really shake up an industry.

I greatly appreciate the wisdom of Solomon to “Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life” (Proverbs 4:13); listening to the counsel of wiser people is vital to our growth; but I also see value in respectfully, humbly challenging the presuppositions of those who came before us and proving the truth for ourselves. As another wise man once said, “Just because something seems impossible, doesn’t mean it isn’t easy” (Parkinson’s Law #21, T. S. Parkinson).

Citizen Kane went on to be enormously successful; though, I’ve not seen the film in a while, so I don’t necessarily recommend it, but rather the philosophy described by Welles and the others I’ve mentioned. Though experience is certainly desirable, your being a novice doesn’t have to be a negative.

Read more wise & witty sayings.