I have recently been looking at a method pioneered by Professor James Heisig for Japanese Kanji and also taken further by Professor Alan Hoenig for Chinese characters. It basically uses memory building stories that do not concern themselves with being necessarily faithful to the original etymologies of the kanji/hanzi which simply offer ways for people learning Chinese symbols, for Japanese and Chinese respectively, to accelerate their learning of these hard-to-remember symbols.
Professor Hoenig has produced in his book snappily entitled “Chinese Characters: Learn & Remember 2,178 Characters and Their Meanings”, little apocryphal stories for enough characters to cover 95% of a typical text. If you want a taste of Hoenig, to coin a phrase, his website Eezychineezy.com, or something, offers bits of his book for free, but it is not expensive anyway, and there are copies available on Amazon, easy to find. In it, Hoenig freely acknowledges that he is building on foundations laid by Professor Heisig.
Professor Heisig, apart from his sterling work “Remembering the Kanji”, has also published “Remembering the Kana” but it only covers the Hiragana and Katakana. Strangely, it has been left to another professor, this time Professor Hulig (anov) to complete the work with “Remembering the Romaji”.
The work is seen below.
This letter stands for apple, and indeed it can be thought of as a rosy apple – the round part is the fruity bit, the bit at the bottom represents where the blossom was, but died, and the overhanging part at the top (not there in all fonts) represents the leaf you sometimes get with the apple if it was picked that way from the tree. In the capital form “A” you can see a ladder which is used to pick the apples from the tree.
This letter is for butterfly and you can see the butterfly at a distance here, having landed on an apple and already eaten the leaf off it. In the capital form, B, you see the butterfly from above with its wings open.
“C” sounds like the word “sea” and looks like a wave on the sea, especially if you write a whole bunch of them one after another in joined up handwriting. The large form is the same as the small form because waves on the sea look pretty much the same whether they are big or small.
The letter “d” comes from “delta” – and here the wave from the sea is stopped by a wall. What is this but a river coming out from the land to meet it? And so a delta forms. The shape of the delta can be seen from above like a semi-circle, giving rise to the capital “D”
E is for egg and you can already see that it is cracked in the middle. The capital letter “E” shows the racks in the hen coop that the chickens lay the eggs in, stacked one above the other. That’s why the eggs are cracked!
This letter is for “foil”, an old word for sword. You can see it sticking down into its victim. The capital ‘F’ shows a man bent double with the sword sticking out of his stomach as he has just fallen on it. “Fallen” also begins with “F” as does “Fail” which is an “F” grade in an English school. After receiving an “F” grade, pupils might commit harakiri by falling on their swords!
The letter “g” stands for gravity in physics, so what better way to show it than an apple “a” drawn upside down because of the effects of gravity? It is well-known that Isaac Newton discovered gravity when an apple fell on his head, and the capital form “G” shows the scratch on the side of Isaac Newton’s head by the apple when it fell on him that fateful day.
This letter “h” is for horse and you see it at a distance here, and in the capital version “H” you see it a little bit closer and with the tail up.
“I” when written large refers to “myself” and therefore is like a scepter, showing confidence and power. However small “i” shows the person feeling less important, ones ego in times of confusiion when you feel as though you’ve lost your head, represented by the dot on the “i”
“J” is similar to “I” in the way the small letter is dotted, but in “J” the bottom half is bent backwards, showing that the ego has as yet an undeveloped libido. J in this case stands for “junior”.
The letter “k” is not true Romaji, as it actually was not used in Latin, but in Greek. Greek for dog is “kynos” so imagine this letter as a dog sitting and begging with one paw up and another forward on the ground, head held up looking at its master. The capital version is the same only bigger, but sometimes in handwriting you’ll see the paw that is up looking like a loop, on the small letter. That’s where the little dog has brought the master the leash to put on him – he wants a walk!
The letter “l” or “L” represents a wall – in fact there are two of them in that very word! The big L has a proper foundation, or the wall might not withstand wind pressure. But the small “l” either has a much small reinforcement or none at all, as it doesn’t need to withstand so much. In Latin “wall” was “Limes” and Roman soldiers used to walk up and down patrolling on that flat bit, guarding the outposts of the Empire against Scottish picts and Hermann’s Denkmal.
This letter is for “mother”, and you can see two breasts in it, which a mother uses to feed milk (another ‘m’ word!) to her offsprings. The capital “M” is a bit more spikey and refers to an older mother who has had many children and now has hard, bony breasts.
The letter “n” is the letter of negation, it stands for “no” and in the capital letter “N” the crossbar at the gate clearly shows that you are not allowed to go there. The small letter “n” is an amended version of this but here the crossbar is bent upwards to allow some exceptions. Even in ancient Romaji times people knew how to ‘turn “no” into “yes”!
This letter “o” is well known to represent the rounding of the lips people make when producing the sound “o”. It also stands for “orifice” and “oral” which also call to mind a round shape. The capital letter is the same only larger, since big people can make the “o” sound just as well as small people.
The letter “p” stands for “person” or “progress” so we see a person looking forwards, which on a timeline in mathematics is to the right. the capital letter is the same only larger, and stands above the line whereas the small letter falls below the line as younger people can’t always see the expected end result of progress, they just go with the flow.
The letter “q” stands for “quantity” or “quality”, and on the small letter you see the person from “p” only this time he or she is not forward looking, but looking back to check the amount or quantity of what has been done and how good it is – the quality. The capital letter “Q” shows a close up of their head and neck peering in to check out the quality and quantity, or if you like it’s a magnifying glass checking it, and wanting more!
The letter “r” or represents regurgitating, with the small letter being a person leaning forward getting ready to be sick. The capital letter “R” has the character P of getting sick of the progress he or she is observing, and is caught in the act of regurgitation. Most of the words beginning with “r” reflect returning or re-doing of some kind, and some people may prefer to see the little “r” as a boomerang, which returns, and the big R the person who’s just thrown it.
This letter is for “snake” or “serpent”, the animal represented by saying the letter long without any vowels attached. The capital and small versions are similar and show the curves of the snake’s body.
The letter “t” is a table and this can be seen clearer in the capital letter “T”. The table top is much smaller in the small version, and has the condiments set sticking out the middle.
“U” sounds like “you”, the second person pronoun, and here we see an image of someone’s index finger, pointing at you! Basically the large letter is the same as the small letter, although some fonts may drop the serif, but they may not drop the depUty.
This letter “v” stands for Victory, and is formed by the image of Churchill’s two fingers, telling the Germans they could vock right off. It also stands for a popular sci-fi series about the invasion of the earth by reptilians, in which Princess Diana swallows a rodent whole.
This letter is called “double u” , but in some Romaji-using languages it is more accurately known as “double v” and refers to George “W” Bush’s double victory in the American elections and his two victorious terms as President, in which he beat Saddam Hussein and the Tabilan in Afghanistan also. Or at least attempted to.
The letter “x” stands for “something that used to be, but isn’t anymore”, such as “x-wife”, “x-theory manager” and “x-files”. When something is no longer correct, it tends to be crossed out and that symbol gave rise to this letter.
The letter “y” refers to the question of “Why” something is happening. The small letter which goes below the line, but the large letter clearly represents the origin of the letter. When you see “Y” you clearly see the letter which the Greeks referred to as “Ypsilon”, but nobody can remember “why”. It also refers to the appearance of the opening in the front of some kinds of gentlemen’s underwear.
This letter is represents sleeping in the Romaji mangas. You can see them coming out of the heads of cartoon characters who are asleep. And in fact you can sometimes here the sound “Z” when listening to someone snoring.
Please feel free to add you own mnemonic stories to help readers of this blog not forget the meaning of the letters in the Romaji alphabet.