The Major System

The Major System is an example of a Peg system. It is notable in that it is indefinitely extensible, as it involves pegging a sound, or small group of sounds, to a numeric digit. Multiple digits are pegged to a series of sounds, making up a peg word. In this way, arbitrarily long numbers can be pegged to extensive words, phrases, or even stories. An additional strength of the system is that it rests on a very small core set of pegs - basically one for each of the ten decimal digits. The basic pegs are very easy to memorise, having their mnemonic "built-in", so the system extends itself painlessly into higher domains.

How the Pegs Work

An Example - Howard Marks' Prison ID

As silly as it sounds, I had to check what this number was. I'd actually used the wrong peg for the fourth figure! I remembered the wrong number perfectly a year later, though, which convinced me of the efficacy of the system. When explaining to a friend how I'd remembered the number, I'd only recently read the book, and my short-term memory was signalling like mad that it was a two and not a one. Not having the book with me, I mailed Howard to check, and he was kind enough to mail me back with the right number. He really is Mr. Nice! Check out his site at and

Okay, the number is 41526-004. The wrongly remembered version was 41516-004. I'll do the wrong one first, since it's just as good an example, then show you the amended version.

The pegged sounds for 41516-004 are RDLDJ-ZZR, or RTLTSh-SSR. RD looks like being red, which as a primary colour has a strong mnemonic value. LDJ looks like ledge, so I have a clear object to remember - a post-office red mantelpiece. A friend of mine - one of two with whom I've discussed Howard's book - is called Ray. 004 makes SSR or ZZR, from which I can make "says Ray". I now have a phrase for the entire sequence : "Red ledge - says Ray."

To pin this phrase to Howard in my memory, I picture a red mantelpiece over a fireplace, against which leans my friend Ray with a copy of Mr. Nice in his hand. Following the memory principles, the redness of the mantelpiece is exaggerated, really post-office red, and the size of the book and the photograph on it's cover are excessive. My friend's posture is exaggeratedly relaxed as he drapes an arm along the mantelpiece.

Note that this mnemonic is highly visual, with a kinaesthetic element in my friend's posture. The image itself can be recalled more-or-less instantly. The speed with which I can "decode" the number is steadily increasing as I continue to return to the Major System and practice and refine my technique. Other learners are strongly advised to investigate their own primary learning modes and tailor their "scenes" accordingly.

Now, the corrected number is 41526-004. This requires that the fourth consonant - the d in ledge - be replaced with an "n". In any case, since the "d" sound is subsumed into the "dge" in ledge this was not really a good choice. The amended scene is me old mate Ray, sitting at a table reading the book and eating a bowl of tomato soup. The phrase is "red lunch, says Ray".

The irony of this example is that, having caught myself remembering the wrong number, I have returned to and reviewed the scene and it now sticks like glue. I actually remember better for having got it wrong once!

The (my) First 100

These are the words that I currently use for the pegs 1 to 100. This is, of course, a personal selection, intended more for the sake of example than as a serious recommendation for others to use. My robust approach to the English language, for instance, means that I can unashamedly use 87 the way I have. Since it's only used in the privacy of my own head, I feel no need for embarrassment. Also, having a sexual connotation, such words actually have a powerful mnemonic value.

Similarly, there is the odd natural history reference embedded in the list - this reflects my personal interests. A Jay for me is a strongly visual and auditory image, where it might be completely meaningless to a Malaysian maths teacher, for instance.