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Andrew Alden

Camels Often Sit Down Painfully . . .

By May 15, 2013

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When I went to geology school, I was already so advanced that I never used mnemonics—those anagram sentences that help students keep track of the names of the geologic time periods. A reader in the Forum has been using the good old sentence "camels often sit down carefully, perhaps their joints creak terribly" to remember the sequence Cambrian-Ordovician-Silurian-Devonian-Carboniferous-Permian-Triassic-Jurassic-Cretaceous-Tertiary. That marks her as both (1) a UK resident and (2) a bit behind the times. On the first point, American students memorize Mississippian and Pennsylvanian instead of the Carboniferous (although that puts us behind the times). On the second, the Tertiary period has been deprecated by the geologic time authorities (although many still find it useful) while the Quaternary period has been formalized. So the perfect mnemonic should end with three words after "creak" to mark the Paleogene, Neogene and Quaternary periods.

What would you use? All I can think of is "creak painfully, no? quite." And where should the Anthropocene go?


May 16, 2013 at 4:09 am
(1) Michael says:

I always found that just remembering the real thing is easier than making up and remembering a mnemonic.
We once had an exam where we had to memorize hundreds of mineral names and their chemical formulae. I still remember some… My friends that made up mnemonics probably don’t.

May 16, 2013 at 8:03 pm
(2) Hollis says:

I will never forget “Campbell’s onion soup does make Peter puke” (Paleozoic, USA), probably because our beloved geomorphology prof said it with such gusto!

May 20, 2013 at 5:14 am
(3) Jon says:

Being from the UK I have taught my students the Camels-Often etc version, but the ending becomes Pretty Nastily for the Palaeogene and Neogene. The Quaternary is more difficult, so I tend to use Quickly but I’m not sure that’s the best thing. As Michael says, I find it was easier to remember without the mnemonic, and so do some of my students. As for the Anthropocene, it should just go.

May 20, 2013 at 7:43 am
(4) Julian says:

My geology professor fixed this mnemonic device so that it fit for the American timeline and covered everything through the Holocene:

Camels Often Sit Down with Much Pain. Perhaps Their Joints Creak. Perhaps Early Oiling Might Prevent Permanent, . . . um . . . rHeumatism.

Well. Have to work on that last part a bit.


May 20, 2013 at 10:05 pm
(5) TeeK says:

?Camels Often Sit Down with Much Pain. Perhaps Their Joints Creak. Perhaps Early Oiling Might Prevent Permanent, . . . um . . . rHeumatism.”

How about “Haemeroids”?

May 24, 2013 at 7:43 am
(6) Lisa herring mayo says:

In my classes, we use this mnemonic: Peter (Precambrian) can only see dirty muddy purple people.” It’s so silly that it actually works! Maybe it’s because it evokes such odd imagery??

January 6, 2014 at 12:06 am
(7) Ken in San Jose says:

I remember one from my anatomy class for the eight bones of the wrist. “Never Lower Tilly’s Pants for Mother May Come Home”. I can’t quite remember the names for the bones now, but I still remember the mnemonic.

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