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The Mem Team

By Memrise Blog

Down in the engine-room, we have a formidable team who have been producing a wealth of entertaining content for our SAT word learning game. It is high time they were introduced.

First, though, it is worth explaining how there are two strands to the content we are generating. On the one hand, we are creating a database of mnemonics, or Mems, to help our users learn words; secondly, we are researching where words come, their roots or etymologies, to provide an alternative pathway of discovery and memorization.

We’ll begin here with the mem-creation

To work well, mems have to be pithy, vigorous and elevated by their wit. But as with romantic text-messages, the effort that goes into their composition must be invisible. They have to evoke emotion, please the ear and amuse- while retaining their naturalness.

Was it not Thoreau who said “whenever a sentence will bear to be read twice, we may be sure it was thought twice”?

Jonny Lowndes has dizzily ascended from being a staff-writer to the position of mem-creator in chief. Formerly a student of Russian, English and Film Studies, he makes use of Memrise’s policy of 50% time to pen travel-narratives, short stories and film-scripts during his afternoons.

In the mornings, though, he writes mems and leads a disparate team of mem-creators, guiding them on matters of style and conception. In this capacity, he has overseen the creation of a database of almost 10,000 mems.

His interest in the literary form of the mem, and its peculiar stylistic demands, derives from its similarity to the aphorism, and from the demands it places on concision, elegance and invention. His collected mems will, we hope, one day be published in a series that will also comprise some of the other foci for his wit: among them, his collected text-messages and the various ways in which he has named wifi networks, to the delight and curiosity of unseen neighbors.

Katrina Devaney, meanwhile, has been directing our etymological research. She’s been finding out where words come from, and thinking about ways of using this knowledge to help people learn better. She’s also been working on our live user-testing protocol.

We’re (quite) proud of how cosmopolitan we are at Memrise, though we still have some work to do before we can call ourselves a world start-up. Katrina is our leading cosmopolitenne: she has lived in Australia, Texas, Indonesia, the West Indies, Africa and South Georgia. She has an interest in modern and classical languages, in symbolic systems and in world cuisine. With her 50% time, she is investigating the ins and outs of Indian food.