August 20, 2006

New planet mnemonic: Language Log is there for you

If the change to the definition of the term planet goes through at the International Astronomical Union in Prague this week, an old mnemonic phrase won't work any more: My Very Excellent Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pizzas will not give a clue to the names of the planets in their correct order proceeding outward from the sun (originally Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, but I suspect that after August 25 you can soon kiss that list goodbye). Fixing up the old memory aid to allow for the addition of Ceres (between Mars and Jupiter), Charon (which circles around Pluto, and we'll list the two in alphabetical order), and Xena (way outside Pluto's orbit) is clearly a job for Language Log (though we're a little bit behind the leading edge of research here: the linguistically unqualified people at Scientific American got onto this just before we did, and there are already about fifty suggestions posted; God, I hate to work alongside amateurs...). So don't worry: we're on the case. Just learn this: My Very Excellent Mother Could Just Send Us Nine Cheerleaders Playing Xylophones. Piece of cake.

Actually, "Xena" is an unofficial nickname at the moment and will almost certainly not be approved, so the cheerleaders will be playing something other than xylophones. Language Log will keep you informed.

Those who recall other mnemonics (like "Many Very Early Men Just Sat Up Nights Playing") will be handled separately; please don't call us, just wait to be contacted by the Mnemonics Division of Language Log.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at August 20, 2006 11:57 PM