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Memory System Rules



The Number-Letter Code
The memory system on which The Number Thesaurus is based was devised over 350 years ago. In 1648, Stanislaus Mink von Winusheim (the pseudonym for Johann-Just Winckelmann) published a paper in Marburg, Germany outlining a memory system based on phonetics. Winckelmann’s system underwent several modifications during the next 175 years. A revision in 1823 by Aimι Paris, a French memory specialist, refined the system to the point that it has been universally accepted for almost 200 years. The adaptation to the English language, produced the following number-letter code: 

0 = S, Z, and soft c (as in city)
1 = T, D, and th (as in the)
2 = N
3 = M
4 = R
5 = L
6 = J, the sh, ch, dg, and soft g (as in age) sounds
7 = K, Q, the hard c (as in can), the hard g (as in go) sounds
8 = F and V
9 = P and B

It is important to remember that the system is based upon sounds, not letters. All of the vowel sounds (A, E, I, O, and U) are ignored. In addition the sounds created by the letters W, H, and Y are also ignored, or almost ignored. (See Rules.)

Mnemonic Devices

The mnemonic devices for remembering these sounds are quite ingenious:

0 – The first sound of the word zero consists of the Z sound
1 – The letter “T” contains one downstroke
2 – A lowercase “N” contains two downstrokes
3 – A lowercase “M” contains three downstrokes
4 – The final sound in the word “four” is the R sound
5 – The Roman numeral for 50 is “L”
6 – The mirror image of “6” resembles an uppercase “J”
7 – Two sevens can form a lowercase “k”
8 – A lowercase cursive “f” and “8” both have two loops
9 – The mirror image of “9” resembles an uppercase “P

Peg Words
Although it takes a little effort to learn this code, the benefits will prove to be well worth the time invested. When the ten letter-number associations have been mastered, a series of so-called “peg words” can be memorized that will further reinforce the pairings. Once memorized, these peg words are used by memory enthusiasts to “hang” items on the mental pegs. These pegs can be visualized as having a name and a numerical location. A user hangs an item on a peg by forming an association between the name of the peg (the peg word) and the item under consideration.

The editors of The Number Thesaurus have discovered several sets of peg word for the ten digits of the decimal system. The chart below sets out the words that have been selected as mnemonic devices by various authors and practitioners of memory systems.

  Furst1 Lorayne
& Lucas
Buzan3 "Charles57"4 Mindtools5
0 sew       sew
1 tea tie day tie toe
2 Noah Noah Noah Noah Noah
3 may(pole) Ma Ma Ma Ma
4 ray rye Ra Ra ray
5 law law law law law
6 jaw shoe jaw shoe jaw
7 key cow key key key
8 fee ivy fee ivy fee
9 pea bee bay bee pie

Each of these sets of ten words illustrates the phonetic system that is now widely used in memory training. Anyone who is contemplating the use of this memory system is strongly advised to memorize one of the lists of ten words shown above. While each set conforms to the phonetic rules set out above, the list in the first column is recommended by the editors of The Number Thesaurus as being the easiest to commit to memory. The ten words can be grouped into four sets, with three of the four sets contain rhyming words

0 – 2 3 – 4 5 – 6 7 – 9
0 = sew 3 = may 5 = law 7 = key
1 = tea 4= ray 6 = jaw 8 = fee
2 = Noah     9 = pea

Repeating these ten words in the following pattern should help to commit the words to memory:

sew, tea, Noah (pause) may, ray (pause) law, jaw (pause) key, fee, pea

The words will enable the user to recall the ten consonant sounds. For example, knowing that jaw is one of the 10 words, the user will immediately know that the “J” sound is one of the significant consonant sounds. Then, recalling that “J” looks similar to the mirror image of 6 will remind the user that a 6 converts to a “J” sound. Likewise, if the user remembers that may is one of the ten words, he or she will immediately know that the “M” sound is one of the significant consonant sounds. Then, recalling that the lowercase “M” has three downstrokes will remind the user that a 3 converts to an “M” sound.

Significant Consonant Sounds
It was mentioned earlier that the following letters are ignored in the peg system — A, E, I, O, U, W, H, and Y. Thus, it is not a coincidence that all of the letters in the peg words – other than the first letter of each word – are contained in this list of eight letters. The goal is to create one significant consonant sound to match each of the ten digits of the decimal system. Thus, the e and w in sew are ignored leaving only the s. The table below illustrates the rules involved in deriving the peg words for the ten digits.

Peg Word Ignore these letters and the sounds they make – A, E, I, O, U, W, H, Y Significant Consonant Sound
sew e and w s
tea e and a t
Noah o and a and h n
may a and y m
ray a and y r
law a and w l
jaw a and w j
key e and y k
fee  e and e f
pea e and a p

Now that a foundation has been created using phonetic sounds to represent the single digits, the concept can be expanded to numbers containing multiple digits. For example, here are a few words that can represent the number 15:

tail, tile, toil, tool, towel, delay, dial, doll, dowel, hotel, Italy, outlaw

A few minutes of study will reveal that the only significant consonant sounds produced by these words are the “T” sound (which also includes the “D” sound) for the number “1” and the “L” sound for the number “5.” Thus, the number 15 can be converted to any of the twelve words listed above, plus many, many more.

Expanding the Peg System
Many memory practitioners form associations for the number 0 – 99 and then commit those associations to memory. The 100 “pegs” are then used to remember lists, or items, or anything that needs to be recalled easily. Shown below is a sample of 100 peg words that can be used for such associations.

0.      sew

25.   nail

50.   lace

75.   coal

1.      tea

26.   niche

51.   lot

76.   cage

2.      Noah

27.   neck

52.   lane

77.   cake

3.      may

28.   navy

53.   lime

78.   coffee

4.      ray

29.   nap

54.   lair

79.   cap

5.      law

30.   mass

55.   lily

80.   face

6.      jaw

31.   mat

56.   lash

81.   fat

7.      key

32.   man

57.   lake

82.   fan

8.      fee

33.   mama

58.   leaf

83.   foam

9.      pea

34.   mare

59.   lab

84.   fire

10.    toes

35.   mail

60.   cheese

85.   file

11.    tot

36.   match

61.   jet

86.   fish

12.    tan

37.   mike

62.   chain

87.   fog

13.    tam

38.   muff

63.   jam

88.   fife

14.    tar

39.   map

64.   chair

89.   fob

15.    tail

40.   rose

65.   jail

90.   bus

16.    tissue

41.   rat

66.   judge

91.   bat

17.    tack

42.   rain

67.   check

92.   bun

18.    taffy

43.   ram

68.   chef

93.   bomb

19.    tap

44.   rear

69.   ship

94.   bear

20.    nose

45.   rail

70.   case

95.   ball

21.    net

46.   rash

71.   cat

96.   beach

22.    nun

47.   rake

72.   can

97.   bike

23.    name

48.   reef

73.   comb

98.   beef

24.    Nero

49.   rope

74.   car

99.   baby

For example, the significant consonant sounds in the peg word for the number 34 (“mare”) are “M” (for the number “3”) and “R” (for the number “4”). Likewise, the significant consonant sounds in the peg word for the number 82 (“fan”) are “F” (for the number “8”) and “N” (for the number “2”). Memory experts who can seemingly memorize a list of 100 random words are actually associating the random words to the list of peg words they have previously memorized. Thus, if the 82nd word in a list of 100 words is hat, the memory expert might visualize an electric fan powerful enough to blow a hat from the head of a passerby.

Association is the Key to Memory
The purpose of the foregoing discussion was not to persuade casual users of The Phonetic Peg Memory System to commit 100 peg words to memory. Instead, the intent was to introduce the concept of associating numbers to words that can then be associated to something the user is trying to remember.

For example, assume the user has a friend whose telephone number is 957-9014. Using the rules established above, the seven-digit number would convert to the following letters:

9 5 7 9 0 1 4
B et al B et al et al

Using trial and error and a little imagination, the word blockbuster can be formed from the given sounds.



















The word blockbuster can then be associated with an individual to whom the telephone number of 957-9014 belongs. Perhaps a mental picture is formed of that individual searching the aisles of Blockbuster Video for a movie to rent.

Sounds, not Spelling
The preceding example illustrates the rule that was mentioned earlier — the system is based on sounds, not letters. The letters that were ignored in the word blockbuster consisted of o, c, u, and e. The letters o, e, and u are contained in the list of eight letters to ignore. However, the letter c is not in that list. The rule to remember is that the system is based on sounds – not spelling. Thus, the ck combination produces a single “K” sound in this instance, and the “C” is ignored in this instance. The Number Thesaurus understands this rule. Therefore, when the user enters 9579014 in the entry field on the home page, The Number Thesaurus will return the word blockbuster.

Remembering the telephone number for the individual in the example above would involve recalling the word blockbuster and then converting the significant consonant sounds to their corresponding numbers. With a little practice, this conversion (words to numbers) becomes easy and almost second nature. It is the initial conversion (a number to a word or words) that is not easy.

Explained another way, every word will convert to one number and only one number. (See blockbuster above.) However, every number will not necessarily convert to a word, whereas some numbers will convert to many different words. For example, the editors of The Number Thesaurus have not yet found a commonly used word into which the number 368 (R-J-F) can be converted. However, the number 410 (R-T-S) converts into more than 100 words (arts, raids, rats and words to name four examples).

Finding the Best Conversion

Among aficionados of this memory system, there is always a lingering doubt that they have thought of the best conversion for a number to a word or phrase (as in the case of the number 410 above). And oftentimes, some numbers simply don’t have a single-word equivalent (as in the case of 368 above), and thus much time is wasted searching for something that does not exist. The Number Thesaurus resolves these two inherent uncertainties in the memory system as explained below.

In the situation where a particular number can be converted into many different words, The Number Thesaurus will list each entry contained in its database that matches the number. The user can be confident that the largest possible selection of matching words is being presented for review.

In the situation where The Number Thesaurus does not contain a one-word or one-phrase equivalent for a number, the system will return the message "No words found." The user can then select the "Search Formats" drop down box on the home page and choose one of the available formats to obtain answers that were not available in the "initial search" using the "regular format." (For an explanation of "initial search" and "regular format" see Tutorial.) 

Completing the Alphabet
Thus far, the explanation of the memory system accounts for 25 of the 26 letters of the alphabet. The letter “X” is a special case. It can produce three different sounds – and therefore three different numbers – depending upon its usage.

(1)  As used in the word complex, the x creates the sounds of a “K” and an “S” (‚kδm-ƒpleks). Thus, the x in complex converts to the two-digit number 70 (k = 7 and s = 0).

(2)  As used in the word complexion, the x creates the sound of a “K” and the sound created by sh (k„m-‚plek-sh„n).  Thus, the x in complexion converts to the number 76 (k = 7 and j (or sh) = 6).

(3)  As used in the word xylophone, the x creates the sound of a Z (‚zˆ-l„-ƒf‹n). Thus, the x in xylophone converts to the number 0 (z = 0).


The Number Thesaurus is a powerful tool for anyone who understands the fundamentals of The Phonetic Peg Memory System. For those users, the editors of The Number Thesaurus suggest simply practicing with the various formatting features contained in the Additional searches dropdown box on the home page. To learn more about how The Number Thesaurus implements the rules of The Phonetic Peg Memory System, go to Rules.


1 Bruno Furst, You Can Remember (Mundelein, Illinois: Career Institute, 1972) 12-20.

2 Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas, The Memory Book (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996) 119. [www.harrylorayne.com]

3 Tony Buzan, Use Your Perfect Memory (New York: Penguin Group, 1989) 90.

4 http://members.optusnet.com.au/~charles57/Creative/Memory/index.html

5 http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTIM_07.htm