Re: Substance and Form

Aaron Lynch (
Tue, 02 Jun 1998 18:08:31 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Tue, 02 Jun 1998 18:08:31 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: Substance and Form
In-Reply-To: <>

>In message <>, Michael Best
><> writes
>>Hi Aaron,
>>Thanks for your email. And I'm sorry that the one time I appear on your
>>listserve it is by accident!
>>Honestly, I am not sure if Campbell used only the adjective and
>>adverbial versions "mnemonic" and "mnemonically". But since English has
>>those rules of transformation that is all fair.
>OED, 2nd edition:
>[begin quote]
>mnemon (_______). Psychol.
>[f. Gr. ______ memory + -on1.]
>A unit of memory (see quots. 1965, 1966).
>The coiner of the term appears to be Cherkin (quot. 1966), whose
>forthcoming paper is mentioned by Young in 1965. Cherkin's paper was
>communicated to the editor of the Proceedings on 19 November 1965.
>1965 New Scientist 23 Dec. 861 In the author's [sc. J. Z. Young's] view,
>memory is localized in small combinations of brain cells, which he calls
>1966 A. Cherkin in Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. LV. 88 The proposed unit is
>defined as the minimum physical change in the nervous system that
>encodes one memory._ The name proposed for the unit is the _mnemon'
>(mneme = memory; -on = suffix denoting a fundamental particle).
>1971 J. Z. Young Introd. Study Man xix. 252 The time to begin
>accumulating such units of memory (mnemons) would be as soon as they are
>mnemonic (_________), a. and n.
>[ad. Gr. ___________, f. _______________ mindful, f. _____________ to
>remember. Cf. F. mnmonique, Sp. mnemnico, Pg., It. mnemonico, G.
>A. adj.
>1. Intended to aid the memory; pertaining to mnemonics.
>1753 Chambers Cycl. Supp., Mnemonic Tables, among the artifices to
>assist the memory, this is one of great use.
>1866 Felton Anc. & Mod. Gr. I. i. iii. 40 Many of the North American
>tribes had invented_a set of mnemonic signs, by which the words of
>popular songs, once learned, could be recalled to the memory.
>1870 Jevons Elem. Logic xvi. 141 In the next lesson certain ancient
>mnemonic lines will be furnished...
>mne_monically adv., in a mnemonical manner.
>1867 Q. Rev. Oct. 427 Each one of these mysterious letters was taken,
>mnemonically, as the initial of some technical word that indicated one
>of these four methods.
>1887 J. Gillow Bibl. Dict. Eng. Cath. III. 310 Hill, William,
>[end quote]
>Robin Faichney

Thank you, Robin.

I have read the Cherkin article, and concluded that his use of the word
differs markedly from my own. First, he is discussing the physiology of
engrams. Second, he defines "mnemon" as a minimum physical change.
Cherkin's paper was not the source of my usage, and the term he introduces
does not seem to have gained wide acceptance in neurophysiology. Citing
Cherkin as a source would have been inaccurate, of course. Moreover, if his
specific meaning has fallen out of favor, it might have been accidentally
taken as reason for rejecting the new use of the word. There may, of
course, be still other re-inventions of "mnemon" out there, as the word can
be so readily derived from standard Greek roots. We cannot presume that all
such re-inventions (if any) have made it into the OED.

As for Campbell's use of "mnemonically," and "nonmnemonic," there is no
specific indication that substring "mnemonic" means anything other than "of
or pertaining to memory."

--Aaron Lynch

This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)