Major Beniowski and the Major System

My post on the history of the major system listed Major Beniowski as the source of the name of the Major System.

However, a reader commented with some skepticism that the Major System is named after the Major.

This is a fantastic website, but there are several important errors on this page. For example, is there really any evidence that the “Major” system was named after Major Beniowski? I’ve never seen any proof of this, and it seems highly unlikely, for the following reasons: (a) Then wouldn’t it be called the “Beniowski System”? (And if he’d been just “Mr. Beniowski”, would anyone call it the “Mr. System”?); (b) Beniowski was a fairly obscure character in the history of mnemonics, compared to Feinaigle, Paris, et al.; (c) There are significant differences between Beniowski’s phonetic key and the most popular one today: i.e., Beniowski used /h/ and /w/, which means he wasn’t following Aimé Paris directly; and (d) MOST IMPORTANTLY, Tony Buzan was calling it the “Major System” at least 30 years ago, but only in the sense that it’s the “major” (primary, etc.) system for memorizing numbers – there was no mention whatsoever of Beniowski. (Of course examples of “minor” systems would be shapes, 2 = swan, and rhyming, 2 = shoe.)

Here’s a great, short bio of Major Bartlomiej Beniowski:


Does anyone have any background info on the origin of the term? Has Tony Buzan ever talked about where he got the name from? I don’t think that Harry Lorayne used the term Major System, but I’m not sure.

Josh, is there a reason that you don’t mention Bruno Furst in the article?

He wrote around the same time that Lorayne first started, so it’s difficult to see who came first as neither of them credit their sources. However, Furst does write that he is using the same code as Berol, Roth and Loisette. He does not call it the Major System.

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Probably because I’m not familiar with his books. I’ll check them out. :slight_smile:

Beniowski’s first pamphlet was %0 Book
%T Major Beniowski’s Phrenotypics; or, a New method of studying and committing to memory languages, sciences, and arts
%D 1841
%I The Author

So, Major Beniowski’s memory system was known as Phrenotypics. If anything, his “Anti-Absurd Alphabet” also known as “phrenotypic orthography” is a better candidate for being called his major system.

There are extensive references to Major Beniowski starting at p34 in the 1886 book

%0 Book
%T On Memory and the Rational Means of Improving it
%A Pick, E.
%D 1866
%I Trübner

Slightly later, in 1882, his system was still being called Phrenotypics
%0 Book
%T Phrenotypics; or, The science of memory simplified and made easy
%A Woollacott, F.C.
%D 1882
%I F.C. Woollacott

So, all ther references to his memory system suggest it was known as Phrenotypics. If anything, his “Anti-Absurd Alphabet” also known as “phrenotypic orthography” is a better candidate for being called his major system.

Punch in 1841 rather acidly commented “Major Beniowski, a Pole, who is celebrated for a new system of artificial memory, has been brought up on a charge of violent assault. We are afraid the Major’s system of memory must be very artificial indeed, if it allows him so easily to forget himself.”

As far as I can see, the first reference to a “Major System” was by Tony Buzan (“Major” in the sense of “main”). That was back in the '80s. Ironically the earliest I can find is in German

Wiegmann, F. (1986): Gedächtnistraining, Bund-Verlag, Köln.

Thanks for posting your research. I just spent a few minutes looking for more information and found this. (I didn’t read it yet.)

DLyons, excellent source material you posted. It appears that Josh also found the book by Major Beniowski, on

I prefer to call it the Phonetic System, but since everyone knows it as the “Major System” I sometimes call them by both in the same sentence (for example: “when I was using the Major ‘Phonetic’ System”, etc.).

I just started reading a few pages here and there in the book that DLyons posted, entitled On Memory and the Rational Means of Improving it by Dr. Edward Pick, and it looks really good. The author is a very insightful writer with excellent command of his craft. I also found another book by Dr. Edward Pick that looks very good entitled Lectures of Memory Culture. I also posted that link below. At the end of his book On Memory and the Rational Means of Improving it, he mentions a course he did where he demonstrated a vast amount of knowledge he memorized on a wide range of topics. Fascinating!"Edward+Pick"

I also use the phonetic system nomenclature. How do we know it didn’t come from Lorayne who was talking about memory in the 50’s? (30 years before Buzan apparently). Lorayne could have said in one of his memory classes. “Now I will show you the phonetic system. It’s the major system for memory in that it is more systematic and more applicable than the other specialist systems you’ve learned up 'till now.”
And voila…before you know it, everyone is talking about the “major system”. With something like a simple label like that, I don’t believe the origin can ever really be traced.

Certainly we can’t know what was said, we can only try to trace the first occurrence of the term in writing. Lorrayne may have written it in one of his books but, as far as I can see, that book isn’t online. What he did say in his 1956 “How to Develop a Super-Power Memory” was “The two major memory systems in this book are the Link Method of Memory and the Peg System of Memory”. So his earlier work didn’t refer to “The Major System”. Maybe some of his later pre-Buzan work did - it would be interesting to find a reference.

By the way, I have a system of easily multiplying the mental filing capacity of the Major “Phonetic” System from the 99 pegs, up to 10,000 with one simple trick. It is much easier than Buzan’s SEM3 (Self-Enhancing Master Memory Matrix), and it is more practical. I will be posting that information in the near future.


I suppose that’s part of my point.
The phonetic system could have been known as ‘the major system’ by many people and been in fairly common usage. Buzan may actually have heard it in common usage first and then just happened to write it down in one of his books. So I don’t think only written material should be taken into account. There is also common usage and oral tradition recognized by historians. It is an interesting question, but it is after all a label, and not an innovation or improvement. So it’s too bad the Major story didn’t pan out.

This is a great discussion :slight_smile:

I can’t help thinking that “the Major System”, complete with capital letters, just isn’t a natural thing to call it - and it certainly doesn’t strike me as the kind of phrase that Tony Buzan would use if he was inventing a new name. Maybe it sounds more reasonable to Americans?

I do think it’s possible that he read that Lorayne phrase “the two major systems in this book…” and always thought of it as “the major system” from then on…

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Tony Buzan used the term in his 1971 book “Speed Memory”, that’s the earliest reference I can find.

“The Major system is the ultimate in the development of the peg systems discussed earlier.” p.82

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I’ll probably look foolish for asking this, but is there anyone who can just ask Tony Buzan where he got the term?

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Good idea - maybe he’ll say “Beniowski popped into my head and it seemed like a nice play on words” :slight_smile:

I’m not really friendly enough with Tony that I can give him a call and ask trivia questions, but I’ll try to ask him the next time we meet - I wouldn’t expect an illuminating answer, though. He’d probably make up a justification on the spot, rather than trying to remember his actual reasons for something he wrote fifty years ago :slight_smile:

I know this was several posts ago but I disagree with this name. I talk about phonetic systems all the time and I don’t just mean the major system. The Ben System is also a system that uses phonetics and I’m sure there’s other systems that could be made using phonetics.

Is this a previously unseen Beniowski book? His book: Genesis in Major Beniowski’s or Phrenotypic Orthograpy stored here:

Refers to another book called The Handbook of Phrenotypics which looks completely different to any of the other Major Beniowski books I could find on the internet.

The stamp on the book refers to the British Museum which is a copyright library so the book must have been published in the UK. I looked in the catalogue for the Bodleian library in Oxford which is also a copyright library but there is not a copy of it there. Does anybody know anything about this book?

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Interesting – I don’t think I’ve seen that one.

I haven’t read it, but it can be downloaded on the free PDF books about memory techniques page.

I did look on the pdf download page but that seems to be the handbook for students and teachers, and judging by the table of contents seems to be a different beastie

Do you think there might be another, separate book? When I skim the PDF, the headers are the same as in that screenshot of the table of contents.