The ASS Postulate

For some reason, the other day I started thinking about mnemonic devices that my teachers occasionally gave us to help us remember certain things in our classes, back in my hazy school days. Most times, my teachers tended to discourage us from relying heavily on mnemonic tricks, but sometimes they yielded to reality and actually gave us a device outright. I can’t remember most of these, but as I’ve thought back, some have burbled up from the depths of my memory. Here are a few:

:: “Oscar had a heap of apples.”

My algebra teacher taught us this one, when it came time for us to study right triangles and the properties thereof. (Which I guess was, basically, entry-level trigonometry. I wish I’d had that teacher for Trig as well…I loathed my trig teacher.) But anyway, this device helps keep straight the formulae for determining the sine, cosine, and tangent values of various angles. Sine is defined as the Opposite side over the Hypotenuse. Cosine is the Adjacent over the Bypotenuse. And Tangent is the Opposite over the Adjacent. I think. It’s been a while…but anyway, “Oscar had a heap of apples.”

:: “KP can ordinarily form good soldiers.”

This one comes from biology. Our teacher was telling us about the various levels of taxonomic classification of life forms. It went:


And I still remember it!

:: “Every good boy deserves fudge.”

This one was used by every elementary school music teacher I ever had. It indicates which notes each line represents on a standard music staff, using the treble clef. The bottom line is E; the second one up is G; then B, D, and F respectively.

A parallel device was simply the word FACE, as those letters are also the notes in the spaces between the lines. Interestingly, once I joined band, these mnemonics never came up again. I never learned any kind of mnemonic for the notes of the bass clef.

:: The ASS Postulate

This came from my geometry teacher, and it’s actually a reverse mnemonic device. When we were learning how to prove that two given triangles were actually congruent, we learned a number of postulates about congruent triangles, all involving side lengths and angles. There was the SAS Postulate, for example, which tells us that in two triangles, if two sides and the angle between them are equal, than the triangles are congruent. Similarly, there was the SSA Postulate (two adjacent sides and the following angle); the ASA postulate (two angles and the inclusive side). Ah, but! our teacher warned us. There’s no such thing as the ASS Postulate, and we could remember that by virtue of the fact that if we tried using the ASS Postulate to prove two triangles congruent, she would consider us…an ass.

OK, then. Point taken!

:: When I got to college and took ear training courses in the music program, one of the earliest things we had to learn to do was recognize intervals by hearing them, and not by reading them on the page. Our professor strongly discouraged the practice, but mnemonics for intervals went round the class, anyway. If the two notes played are the first two notes of “Here Comes the Bride”, that’s a perfect fourth. The first two notes of Star Wars? Perfect fifth. The old NBC three-note motif? The first two notes of that are a major sixth. The first two notes of “Maria” from West Side Story? That’s a tritone. And so forth. In time we got away from relying on these, anyway.

:: And yes, I remember the one that Marcia Brady taught younger brother Peter on The Brady Bunch when he was having trouble remembering what a primate is: “A vertebrate has a back that’s straight.”

So, what mnemonic devices do you all remember still?

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The ASS Postulate

  1. Doug says:

    Roy G. Biv is one mnemonic I remember from Physics (colors of the visible spectrum)


  2. Tom says:

    "My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas."

    Probaby needs revision now that Pluto isn't a planet anymore.

    Another version of the same thing from Heinlein:

    "Mother very thoughtfully made a jelly sandwich under no protest."

    I like that one better because it includes the asteroids, and changes Earth to Terra.

    I'm not sure why mothers and food are involved in both versions.

  3. Geoff Valentine says:

    All Cows Eat Grass was the mnemonic I remember for bass clef spaces. Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always for the lines.

    Elephants Always Do Get Big Ears is one for the strings on a guitar, from lowest to highest.

  4. Roger Owen Green says:

    Every Good Boy Does Fine for the lines in the treble clef, FACE, of course for the spaces.

    And tho I thought it was weird at the time to have one for a single word, I cannot spell rhythm without saying Ruth Has Your Torn Home Magazine!

  5. Anonymous says:

    I apologize in advance for the following pedantry, but being a bit of a math geek, well, this was driving me nuts.

    SSA and ASS are actually equivalent. I remember my geometry teacher refused to use the "ASS mnemonic" and very pointedly used SSA every time.

    My father, on the other hand, used the "ASS mnemonic" every chance he got because it was one of the few times he could get away with swearing in front of my mother without her getting upset.

    Also, since I'm already the irritating corrections guy nobody likes, those are actually theorems and not postulates.

    Again, I apologize for the pedantry.

  6. Kelly Sedinger says:

    Wow, Herkmeister. Way to poop my party! (Go ahead, pedant all the way…I'm not a math geek or anything, much to the chagrin of my father!)

  7. Anonymous says:

    from way back in 4th grade, the class was having a difficult time with spelling; teacher gave us "a rat in Tom's hat might eat Tom's ice cream" arithmetic.

  8. Lynn says:

    I remember one from school. It was both gross and grammatically incorrect but it was a teacher who told us this one to remember how to spell "geography": "George eat old gray rats at Pa's house yesterday,"

  9. Kari says:

    Good Boys Do Fine Always
    Every Good Boy Does Fine

    All Cows Eat Grass (cars/gas)

    King Phillip Calls Out For Good Soup

    PEMDAS (order of operation in Math)
    perenthesis, exponets,multiply,divide,add, subtract

    Can you tell I work in th eschool system. lol I know there are many more that we have just talked about in school, but I cant remember them now.

  10. Susan Anderson says:

    I was taught, musically, that "Every Good Boy Does Fine."


Comments are closed.