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Mnemonics: Funny Words You Should Commit to Memory

Mnemonics: Funny Words You Should Commit to Memory

Remember and recall important information using this handy memory aid.

Early in grade school, did you have to memorize the colors of the rainbow in the order they appear? If you did, then you probably came across a phrase like “Richard of York gave battle in vain,” or the name Roy G. Biv. These are simple, memorable figures of speech that helped your young mind remember that red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet are the colors of the visible spectrum. You probably still remember and use one or both phrases to this day.

Through high school and college, perhaps even during your certification training or in your current coding job, you’ve used mnemonics — though, you may have not known them by this name.

What are mnemonics exactly, and how do they aid memory? More importantly, how can they help you obtain your certification or do your job more efficiently?

Here is an explanation of what makes mnemonics so helpful in jogging our memories to retrieve important pieces of information, along with some of our favorite coding mnemonics.

What Are Mnemonics?

Pronounced “ni-mon-icks,” and derived from the Greek word “to remember,” mnemonics are little tricks that help you remember information. They can take many different forms, from simple phrases to pictures and diagrams or even song lyrics that have been changed to contain specific information to be sung to a favorite melody.

How Mnemonics Work

You’ve probably never heard of Boris Nikolai Konrad, but it’s fair to say he’s one of the greatest memorizers in the world today. He won both team and individual gold medals at the Memory World Championships and earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for memorizing 21 first names and birth dates within two minutes.

Konrad, a neuroscientist who studies memory at Munich’s Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, believes mnemonics work. “The brain is able to store more information if they ‘come in’ in a specific way,” he reasons. “Apparently the mnemonics enable us to directly encode information into long-term memory.” That’s why you can retrieve a simple phrase learned many years ago and recall the information it represents five, 10, or even 50 years after the event.

How can you apply mnemonics to the world of medical coding? They can be used in a number of very useful ways, from studying for your coding certification to using mnemonics on the job.

Using Mnemonics to Learn Anatomy

Want some help learning anatomy for your Certified Professional Coder (CPC®) exam? There’s a whole bunch of mnemonics for that. Here are some of my favorites.

Want to remember the number of vertebrae in the human spine?

The spine consists of 26 bones: to recall the first 24 — the presacral vertebrae — you can use the mnemonic: 

      Breakfast at seven, lunch at noon, and dinner at five.

This helps you to remember that the cervical spine has seven vertebrae, the thoracic 12, and the lumbar five. (The other two bones in the spine are the sacrum and coccyx. Maybe you have a different mnemonic to remember them on their own or with the other spinal vertebrae.)

Want to remember the parts of the gastrointestinal tract in sequence?

Food travels from the stomach, through the intestines, in the following order: duodenum, jejunum, ileum, cecum, appendix, colon, sigmoid colon, and rectum. You can remember these terms in order with the phrase:

      Dow Jones Industrial climbing average closing stock report

Want to remember the sequence of valves that blood flows through as it circulates throughout the heart?

Blood flows through the tricuspid, pulmonary, mitral, and aortic valves in that order. Add the first two letters of tricuspid, the first three of pulmonary, and the first of mitral to the name of the last valve and you have:

      TRy PULling My AORTA.

Using Mnemonics in Coding

Here are a few mnemonics that directly apply to coding.

Want a quick way to remember ICD-10-CM categories?

ICD-10-CM is divided into chapters, each of which uses codes that begin with a letter of the alphabet. You can use those letters to create mnemonics that quickly and easily lead you to the right chapter for a diagnosis.

For example, you can use the following mnemonics to remember the codes featured in the first five ICD-10-CM chapters:

Chapter 1: Certain Infectious and Parasitic Diseases (A00-B99) – All Bugs

Chapter 2: Neoplasms (C00-D49) – Cancer and Death

Chapter 3: Diseases of Blood (D50-D89) – Dracula

Chapter 4: Endocrine, Nutritional and Metabolic Diseases (E00-E89) – Endocrine

Chapter 5: Mental, Behavioral and Neurodevelopmental Disorders (F01-F99) – Freud

Go through the remaining chapters and create your own mnemonic for each one. Don’t like these suggestions? Invent your own!

Want a quick way to remember the difference between modifiers 78 and 79?

One of the key words that distinguishes these similar modifiers is the term “relate.” Modifier 78 Unplanned return to the operating/procedure room by the same physician or other qualified health care professional following initial procedure for a related procedure during the postoperative period describes a return to the operating room for a related procedure. Modifier 79 Unrelated procedure or service by the same physician or other qualified health care professional during the postoperative period describes a procedure that is unrelated to, but that is performed during, the postoperative period of an initial procedure.

To remember the difference, use the rhyme:


Want to remember the eight history of present illness (HPI) elements?

Here’s a handy way to remember the eight official HPI elements — location, quality, severity, duration, timing, context, modifying factors, and associated signs and symptoms — the next time you are coding evaluation and management (E/M) services:

  • Site (Location): Is the symptom/complaint located in a specific (anatomical) place.
  • Onset (Duration): When did the problem begin, what was the patient doing when it started, and how long has it been present.
  • Context: The circumstances/environment in which the symptoms occur.
  • Radiation (Quality): How the complaint feels if it is pain related (stabbing, achy, itchy, sharp, dull, etc.) and whether it radiates from the primary location.
  • Associated signs and symptoms: Other symptoms that began around the same time as the dominant problem; often related.
  • Timing: How often the symptoms occur (frequently, occasionally, constant, etc.).
  • Exacerbating/relieving (modifying) factors: Anything that relieves or aggravates the problem.
  • Severity: The degree of intensity of the signs or symptoms (1-10 pain scale, wincing, doubled over in pain, etc.).

Put the first letter of each element together and you’ll have the name of the wise Greek philosopher:


Now that you know what mnemonics are, can you add more to the list?


Bruce Pegg
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