Memorizing vs. committing to memory

Memorizing vs. committing to memory

Several things in life -- the new hockey season and the national anthems (U.S. and Canada), familiar hymns in church, music at home, and other autumnal goodness -- have been calling my attention to just how much I have committed to memory, and how much I like that expression.

(The last piece in my series on "The Story of English" is coming, but it is taking more studying than I'm often ready for. I apologize for the delay.)

I used to talk and write about "memorizing" things -- songs, pieces or other facts for school or church -- without thinking much about that word. But it doesn't seem to call for much thought, does it?

On the other hand, the (usually British) expression "committing to memory" is more involved or personal. There is commitment in the phrase -- even if you're promising only yourself, not someone else, you're committing to remember something.

"Memorizing," on the other hand, is as impersonal as any other sort of -izing word... except perhaps "sizing," which takes some rather personal measuring. But otherwise, memorizing could be like sanitizing: I'll remember it, but it's all cleaned up.

Committing to memory is full of promise: I can't be back here until who-knows-when, so I'll commit this room to memory. You told me something special; I'll commit it to memory.

If I memorized something, it might be stuck in the lower reaches of my brain-attic, to use Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's vivid image. But if I've committed it to memory, I have it at the front door of that attic, ready to grab because I know I want it.

Maybe that's part of it -- the things I've memorized, such as state capitals and dates, I've often been taught or told to memorize because I will need them, or so I'm told. But the things I commit to memory are the things I want to remember -- I know I'll want them later.

So plant me firmly in the middle of the Atlantic on this one, dear readers -- metaphorically plant me, please. I think I'll hang onto both "memorize" and "commit to memory."
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Filed under: Expressions

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  • What a delightful post--and a wonderful thought, to commit something to memory...thank you!

  • In reply to Weather Girl:

    Many thanks. (No explanation why two previous thanks have disappeared into a glitch -- but I'm very pleased that you've enjoyed this.)

  • Your distinction is spot on, my friend. We memorize facts, data, etc., but we commit to memory ideas, sensations, impressions.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Thank you, my friend. I like your distinction about what sorts of things apply to each expression.

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