A new kind of mnemonic and lesson for the political map of South America.

2021 February 11th edit: Please note that this article has been rendered obsolete by my new article published today. The new article contains everything that this one does, updated as necessary, plus some miscellaneous stuff. Here’s a link to the new article:

I’ll leave this old article here for a while because I linked to it and for the historical record.

If you visit the website you can click on the map and see a very large high resolution version of the map.

I carefully created the following order for the thirteen nations of South America, including French Guiana which is officially an integral part of France. This is the core of the mnemonic.

  1. Ecuador
    2. Colombia
    3. Peru
    4. Chile
    5. Argentina
    6. Brazil
    7. Venezuela
    8. Guyana
    9. Suriname
    10. French Guiana
    11. Bolivia
    12. Paraguay
    13. Uruguay

[Feb 10th 2021 edit: Better still might be the same essential order but renumbered:

1. Colombia
2. Peru
3. Chile

4. Argentina
5. Brazil
6. Venezuela

7. Guyana
8. Suriname
9. French Guiana

10. Bolivia
11. Paraguay

12. Uruguay

13. Ecuador]

Can you see why they are ordered in this particular way?
Have a think, study the map, and then scroll down if you need a clue.

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Note that the principles pay attention only to the mainland of South America. Islands are ignored.

Here’s a couple of clues. The first principle is intended to make it easier to draw the map free hand. The second teaches some of the specific parallels and meridians that cross South America.
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Okay, here’s how the order was generated.

There are two main guiding principles that are designed to make it educational.

The first principle is the contiguity principle which is that it is good to have, other things being equal, each country on the list sharing a border with the one following it. Thus, one reason Colombia follows Ecuador is that it borders it. This makes it easier to recall and easier to draw free hand.

The second principle is to exploit, where possible, any coincidences in the locations of the borders with respect to the parallels and meridians.

Which nations of the list break the first principle?
What are some of the coincidences that were used in ordering the list?

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Only Uruguay completely breaks the contiguity rule. Bolivia and Paraguay only touch each other and not the ones before and after and so partly break it. French Guiana touches only Suriname. Countries one to 10 (Ecuador to French Guiana) form a chain. Bolivia and Paraguay form a chain of two.

Only Uruguay completely breaks the coincidences rule. Can you see any of the coincidences?

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Here is a clue. They are coincidences of approximate position, not the exact numbers.
Here is another.

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Here’s another clue.

  1. Ecuador

2. Colombia
3. Peru
4. Chile

5. Argentina
6. Brazil
7. Venezuela

8. Guyana
9. Suriname
10. French Guiana

11. Bolivia
12. Paraguay

13. Uruguay

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Here is the answer.

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The first coincidence relates to the 75th meridian. It just misses the eastern tip of Ecuador, cuts Colombia, and Peru each in half, and just touches the western tip of Chile, as well as just missing the western tips of Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela. The 75th meridian serves as a remarkably good approximation of the western coast of the mainland of South America, too, never being far from it.

The second coincidence is that Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana are contiguous and all lie between the equator and the 15th parallel. Furthermore Venezuela fits rather snugly and Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana are entirely due east of it, making a very neat row indeed. Note that all four are in order of size and each one is entirely due east of the preceding one. This set of four is unique on the planet. It might not look like a remarkable coincidence, but it is. See my Africa and Arabia mnemonic for more about this type of coincidence.

The third coincidence is that Bolivia and Paraguay are cut in mirror image fashion by the 60th meridian. It’s as if they are skewered together by it. They are the only landlocked countries in South America.

And Uruguay is constrained to be the last one, being left over because it isn’t involved in any coincidences. It isn’t cut by a major meridian or parallel. Like Bolivia and Paraguay, it is sandwiched between Brazil and Argentina while, unlike them, it has a sea coast.

By design, there a lot of groups of three. Here are the number of members of each of the six groups: 1, 3, 3, 3, 2, 1.

  1. Ecuador

2. Colombia
3. Peru
4. Chile

5. Argentina
6. Brazil
7. Venezuela

8. Guyana
9. Suriname
10. French Guiana

11. Bolivia
12. Paraguay

13. Uruguay

By good luck the list starts and ends with a group of one. It is tempting to call Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay a set of three , on the ground that they all are sandwiched between Brazil and Argentina, but that would be to obscure the important group that is Bolivia and Paraguay, united by their remarkable relation to the 60th meridian.

This mnemonic is arguably a set of mnemonics. It helps me recall not only the names of the nations, but also their locations with respect to each other, and contiguity, and relative to some of the major parallels and meridians (more commonly known as lines of latitude and lines of longitude, respectively).

In short: In the list, 1 (Equador) is just to the west of the 75th meridian. 2,3, and 4 are cut by it, and 5, 6, and 7 are just to the east of it. 8, 9, and 10 are cut by the 60th meridian, to the east of it, and to the east of it, respectively. Those three are also entirely between the equator and the 15th parallel. 11 and 12 are cut by the 60th meridian and 13 is to the east of it. Once you know which country is which number in the list, it is easy to recall where it lies with respect to the meridians, and, to some extent, with respect to the parallels.

There you have it.

It’s easy to recall that Venezuela is 7 on the list because ‘seven’ sounds a bit like the first part of ‘Venezuela’ and that makes it easy to recall. Not as similar in sound but worth noting is that the ‘zil’ of Brazil recall ‘six’, and the ‘name’ of ‘Suriname’ recalls ‘nine’ (‘Sure is name’/’sure is nine’, anyone?). Also ‘ten’ sounds like ‘French’.

Taking this further, one could even think to oneself ‘Sevenzuela’, or even teach students that this is a possible alternative mnemonic name for Venezuela. Likewise, ‘Brasix’ for Brazil, ‘Surinine’ for Suriname, ‘Ten Guiana’ or ‘Tench Guinana’ for French Guiana, ‘Coltwombia’ for Colombia, ‘Guyeightna’ for ‘Guyana’, ‘Econedor’ or ‘Ecuonedor’ for ‘Ecuador’, ‘Perthree’ for Peru, ‘Chilfour’ for Chile, and ‘Fivegentina’ for Argentina. And for the remaining three, ‘Belevena’ for Bolivia, ‘Paratwelve’, and ‘Urthirteen’ for Uruguay.

If students heard these mnemonic alternative names enough, they might effortlessly learn what number each country is in the list. To summarize:

Ec1dor

Col2mbia

Per3

Chil4

5gentina

Bra6

7zuala

Guy8na

Suri9

10ch Guiana

B11a

Para12

Ur13

  1. Econedor
  2. Coltwombia
  3. Perthree
  4. Chilfour
  5. Fivegentina
  6. Brasix
  7. Sevenzuala
  8. Guyeightna
  9. Surinine
  10. Tench Guiana
  11. Belevena
  12. Paratwelve
  13. Urthirteen

Or how about always putting the number first? That might be better. Note that the number of syllables is, as always, unchanged for easier recall.

1quador

2lombo

3ru

4le

5gentina

6zil

7zuela

8ana

9iname

10ch Guiana

11a

12guay

13guay

Onecuador

Twolombo

Threeru

Fourle

Fivegentina

Sixzil

Sevenzuela

Eightana

Nineriname

Tench Guiana

Elevena

Twelveguay

Thirteenguay

Or how about always the final syllables are the number?

Ecuad1 and so on.

Ecuadone and so on.

It might be a subject for a different article, but this technique can be used to combine any small number with any reasonably-sized word.

This meridian as mentioned cuts Bolivia and Paraguay in a fairly remarkable way, seeming to stitch them together. It does the same thing but even more remarkably with Venezuela and Guyana just touching the eastern and western tips respectively. And see how after Bolivia and Paraguay it passes through Argentina, while after Venezuela and Guyana it passes in remarkably similar fashion through Brazil. These coincidences don’t get highlighted as much as they could have been in the mnemmonic because it seemed to me more important to keep Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana consecutive in the list. Bolivia and Paraguay are not of great interest to most people, because they have not heard of them, perhaps because those two nations are landlocked. I did consider having Bolivia follow Venezuela, but decided against it for the above reasons.

Not relevant to the mnemonic because it applies only to the mainland of South America, but it seems remarkable that the 60th meridian manages to hit exactly two islands of the Falkland Islands and exactly two islands of the South Shetland Islands. Not sure whether they are part of South America, anyway.

The 60th meridian cuts South America into two fairly equal areas. One could perhaps usefully refer to the areas to the east and west of the meridian as eastern South America and western South America or as areas east of the 60th meridian and west of the 60th meridian. The 60th meridian is roughly speaking where South America is longitude wise.

I just noticed another regularity. 5, 6, and 7 are all cut by the 60th meridian, though they are not the only ones to be so cut. They are each cut fairly near to (very near in the case of 7) its eastern tip. M60 cuts off about 10 percent of Brazil, and about the same percentage of Bolivia.

It’s worth noting that 7, 8, 9, and 10 are, besides being north of the equator and south of the 15th parallel, entirely due east of each other. I mean every part of 8, 9, and 10 is due east of some part of 7, and every part of 9 and 10 is due east of some part of 8, and every part of 10 is due east of some part of 9. Note: I’ve ignored islands throughout and am not sure whether that make a difference. And 7, 8, 9, and 10 are all likewise due east of Colombia, which cuts the equator.

The 45th meridian is very roughly where the east coast of South America could be said to be. But the east coast is hard to pin down. I am mentioning the 45the meridian because it should be the opposite number of the 75th meridian. Also, it a very important meridian simply due to the fact that it is one eighth of the way around the earth from the prime meridian.

In South America, it cuts only Brazil, cutting off about a quarter of Brazil, which is about an eighth of South America, therefore. The point where it cuts the equator is fairly near the coast of Brazil. More interesting is the way it passes north to south neatly between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo while the tropic of Capricorn passes west to east even more neatly between those two greatest economic powerhouses of Brazil. It’s as if the 45th meridian and the tropic of Capricorn form a pair of cross hairs on the area of greatest population and economic productivity in the country. ‘Rio de Janeiro has the second largest GDP of any city in Brazil, surpassed only by São Paulo.‘, says Wikipedia.

Also I see it hits Powell Island of the South Orkney Islands. Not sure whether they are part of South of America. Given that we saw that the 60th meridian hits exactly two of the Falkland Islands, and exactly two of the South Shetland Islands, it is really something that the 45th meridian hits Powell Island of the South Orkney Islands, because these islands are all of them small and few and far between.

Just as a joke can be hidden, so can a mnemonic. It’s in effect a hidden meaning.

It might be fun or useful to teach someone the ordered set of thirteen countries without explaining the rhyme and reason of it. It could be learned by rote with or without any mention of the 1, 3, 3, 3, 2, 1 subgroups. In the latter case, it is harder for the student to notice the mnemonic coincidences. To make it harder still for the student to guess, one could have a completely separate different mnemonic with a different grouping: EC PC CAB VG SFB PU. European Community, personal computer, taxicab, video game, Scott Fish Bowl, Princeton University.

EC PC CAB

VG SFB

PU

Five syllables, five syllables, two syllables. First two lines both end in a B.

Another interesting and useful feature of this order is that, with the exception of Chile, which is too small, the first ten nations in the list have areas that start small with Ecuador, and get bigger and bigger, up to Brazil at number six, which is the biggest country in South America and then get smaller and smaller, until finishing with French Guiana at number ten. If Argentina gave or sold about 600,000 square kilometers (a million would also do the trick) of land to Chile, the order by area of the first ten members of the list would be perfect. Note that in a list that runs from one to ten, no number is exactly at the center, but five and six are as near to the center as a whole number can be. So this is really neat (except for Chile). I find it easy to recall a single exception to a rule. Let me know in the comments whether you are the same. This feature can be used as an explanation (strictly speaking bogus) for the order and/or be used a sort of mnemonic for it.It helps with recalling which countries share borders, and once you know that (except for Chile being about 600.000 square kilometers too small) the area gets bigger from 1 to 6, and then smaller from 7 to 10, and then with a dislocation, smaller from 11 to 13, you know a lot about the relative areas of the countries.

It’s then completely up to the teacher (or parent if it is used in homeschooling) when (if ever) to reveal to reveal the meridian and parallel based rationale behind the order, or indeed any of the regularities. It would be interesting to see how many students, could learn the order without one of them noticing that it gives you knowledge of some of the parallels and meridians cutting South America.

Maybe students could be encouraged to think by asking them to look for patterns in my ordered list. In the process, the students would learn all about the map of South America.

‘Make friends with meridians.’ ‘Pal up with parallels.’

Contemplating meridians and parallels is good for numeracy. So is merely using a numbered list. The groups of three are especially good for building numeracy. It isn’t immediately obvious how many numbers are in the range 2 to 4. Some will think it is two. It is good for numeracy to overlearn that 2 to 4 has three members, and likewise with the other subgroups. This will make students more numerate, and especially will make them better at avoiding the well-known ‘off-by-one error’. ‘OB1’, anyone?

How about always putting the number first? That might be better. Note that the number of syllables is, as always, unchanged for easier recall.

1quador
2lombo
3ru
4le
5gentina
6zil
7zuela
8ana
9iname
10ch Guiana
11a
12guay
13guay

Onecuador
Twolombo
Threeru
Fourle
Fivegentina
Sixzil
Sevenzuela
Eightana
Nineriname
Tench Guiana
Elevena
Twelveguay
Thirteenguay

Or how about always have the final syllables as the number?
Ecuad1 and Ecuadone , Colom2 and Colomtwo, and so on.
It might be a subject for a different article, but this technique can be used to combine any small number with any reasonably-sized word.

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Matthew Christopher Bartsh

Matthew Christopher Bartsh

I always follow back. I usually follow anyone who makes an interesting or okay response to one my articles. I often clap. I never give fewer than fifty claps.

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