Piphilology comprises the creation and use of mnemonic techniques to remember a span of digits of the mathematical constant π. The word is a play on Pi itself and the linguistic field of philology.

There are many ways to memorize π, including the use of piems (a portmanteau, formed by combining pi and poem), which are poems that represent π in a way such that the length of each word (in letters) represents a digit. Here is an example of a piem: How I need a drink, alcoholic of course [or, in nature] after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics. Notice how the first word has 3 letters, the second word has 1, the third has 4, the fourth has 1, the fifth has 5, and so on. In longer examples, 10-letter words are used to represent the digit zero, and this rule is extended to handle repeated digits in so-called Pilish writing. The Cadaeic Cadenza records the first 3834 digits of π in this manner, and a 10,000-word novel, Not A Wake, has now been composed accordingly.[1]

However, piems prove inefficient for large memorizations of pi. Other methods include remembering patterns in the numbers (for instance, the year 1971 appears in the first fifty digits of pi) and the method of loci (used to memorize π to 65,536 digits).[2]



Recent decades have seen a surge in the record number of digits memorized.[3]

Until the 20th century, the number of digits of pi which mathematicians have had the stamina to calculate by hand remained in the hundreds, so that memorization of all known digits at the time was possible.[4] In 1949 a computer was used to calculate π to 2000 places, presenting one of the earliest opportunities for a more difficult challenge.

Subsequent computers calculated pi to extraordinary numbers of digits (2.7 trillion as of August, 2010)[5] , and people began memorizing more and more of the output. The world record for the number of digits memorized has exploded since mid-century, and stands at 100,000 as of October 2006.[6] The previous record (83,431) was set by the same person (Akira Haraguchi) on July 2, 2005,[7] and the record previous to that (42,195) was held by Hiroyuki Goto. An institution from Germany provides the details of the “Pi World Ranking”; see the website at http://www.pi-world-ranking-list.com.

Examples in English

The most common mnemonic technique is to memorize a so-called "piem" (play on pi and poem) in which the number of letters in each word is equal to the corresponding digit of π. This famous example has several variations, including:

How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics!
How I need a drink, alcoholic in nature, after the tough chapters involving quantum mechanics!

Short mnemonics such as these, of course, do not take one very far down π's infinite road. Rather, they are intended more as amusing doggerel. If even less accuracy suffices, the following examples can be used:

How I wish I could recollect pi easily today!
Can I have a large container of coffee? Thank you.

This second one gives the value of π as 3.141592653, while the first only brings it to the second "5". Indeed, many published piems use truncation instead of one of the several roundings, thereby producing a less accurate result when the first omitted digit is greater than or equal to 5. It is advantageous to use truncation in memorizing if the individual intends to study more places later on, otherwise one will be remembering erroneous digits.

Another mnemonic is:

The point I said a blind Bulgarian in France would know

In this mnemonic the word "point" represents the decimal point itself.

Yet another example is:

How I wish I could recollect, of circle round, the exact relation Arkimedes learned

In this example, the spelling of Archimedes is altered so that it represents 9.

Longer mnemonics employ the same concept. This example created by Peter M. Brigham incorporates twenty decimal digits:

How I wish I could enumerate pi easily, since all these bullshit mnemonics prevent recalling any of pi's sequence more simply.


Some mnemonics, such as this poem which gives the "3." and the first 20 decimal digits, use the separation of the poem's title and main body to represent the decimal point:

I wish I could determine pi
Eureka, cried the great inventor
Christmas pudding, Christmas pie
Is the problem's very center.

Another, more poetic version is:

Sir, I have a rhyme excelling,
In mystic power and magic spelling,
Celestial spirits elucidate,
For my own problems can't relate.

A 30-digit extension of the same proceeds as follows:

Sir, I send a rhyme excelling,
In sacred truth and rigid spelling,
Numerical sprites elucidate,
For me the lexicon's full weight,
If nature gain, not you complain
Tho' Dr Johnson fulminate.

There are minor variations on the above rhyme, which still allow pi to be worked out correctly. However, one variation replaces the word "lexicon's" with "lesson's" and in doing so, incorrectly indicates that the 18th digit is 7.

The logologist Dmitri Borgmann gives the following 30-word poem in his book, Language on vacation: An olio of orthographical oddities:[8]

Now, a moon, a lover refulgent in flight,
Sails the black silence's loneliest ellipse.
Computers use pi, the constant, when polite,
Or gentle data for sad tracking aid at eclipse.

The following sonnet is a mnemonic for pi to 75 decimal places in iambic pentameter:

Now I defy a tenet gallantly
Of circle canon law: these integers
Importing circles' quotients are, we see,
Unwieldy long series of cockle burs
Put all together, get no clarity;
Mnemonics shan't describeth so reformed
Creating, with a grammercy plainly,
A sonnet liberated yet conformed.
Strangely, the queer'st rules I manipulate
Being followéd, do facilitate
Whimsical musings from geometric bard.
This poesy, unabashed as it's distressed,
Evolvéd coherent - a simple test,
Discov'ring poetry no numerals jarred.

Note that in this example, 10-letter words are used to represent the digit zero.

Lengthier works

There are piphilologists who have written texts that encode hundreds or thousands of digits. This is an example of constrained writing, known as "Pilish". For example, Poe, E.: Near a Raven[9] represents 740 digits, Cadaeic Cadenza encodes 3835, and Not A Wake[10] extends to 10,000 digits.

Sound-based mnemonics

It is also possible to use the rhythm and sound of the spoken digits themselves as a memorization device. The mathematician John Horton Conway composed the following arrangement for the first 100 digits,

                        _     _   _
            3 point  1415  9265  35
                     ^ ^
             _ _  _ _    _ _   __
            8979  3238  4626  4338   3279
              **  **^^          ^^   ****
             .   _    _   __   _    _      _ . _ .
       502 884  197 169  399 375  105 820  974 944
        ^  ^                       ^  ^
                59230 78164
                 _     _    _    _
              0628  6208  998  6280
               ^^   ^^         ^^
             .. _  .._
             34825 34211 70679,
                         ^  ^

where the accents indicate various kinds of repetition.[11]

Examples in other languages


Nem a régi s durva közelítés,
Mi szótól szóig így kijön
Betűiket számlálva.
Ludolph eredménye már,
Ha itt végezzük húsz jegyen.
De rendre kijő még tíz pontosan,
Azt is bízvást ígérhetem.


It is not the old and rough approximation,
What comes out word by word
Counting their letters.
Ludolph's result is already here,
If we do it, on twenty digits.
But come out ten more precisely
I also promise definitely.

An interesting (not math themed) alternative:

Bír-e, érez-e ember nyugalmat,
Ha lelkét nehéz bús emlék zaklatja.
Szüntelen felhőbe burkolózó idő az,
Ami változni ámha akarna se tudhat,
Mert azt nem írhattya már le halandó kívánsága.


Whether has, whether feels a man a peace of mind
If his soul is harrased by heavy, sad memories.
The continuously clouded time is,
What cannot change although it want,
Because it cannot be written by a mortal's desire.

Another alternative:

Íme a szám: a görög periféria pi betűje.
Euler meg Viète végtelen összeggel közelít értékéhez.
Lám, őt már Egyiptom, Kína, Európa is akarta, hogy
„ama kör kerülete úgy ki lehetne számlálva”.


Kur i hyej, e kryej, sigurisht, po përtoj andaj nuk fitoj — "If I start dealing with it, I will do it, but I am lazy therefore I do not win."


This statement yields π to nine decimal places:

Wie, o dies π macht ernstlich so vielen viele Müh

English translation that doesn't encode pi:

How, oh this π seriously makes so many struggles to so many

Looser English translation that encodes pi:

Woe! O this π makes seriously so muchly many's woe.


The following statement and question consists of words each with a number of letters that yields π to 126 decimal places:

Que j'aime à faire apprendre un nombre utile aux sages !
Immortel Archimède, artiste ingénieur,
Qui de ton jugement peut priser la valeur ?
Pour moi, ton problème eut de pareils avantages.
Jadis, mystérieux, un problème bloquait
Tout l'admirable procédé, l'œuvre grandiose
Que Pythagore découvrit aux anciens Grecs.
Ô quadrature! Vieux tourment du philosophe
Insoluble rondeur, trop longtemps vous avez
Défié Pythagore et ses imitateurs.
Comment intégrer l'espace plan circulaire ?
Former un triangle auquel il équivaudra ?
Nouvelle invention : Archimède inscrira
Dedans un hexagone ; appréciera son aire
Fonction du rayon. Pas trop ne s'y tiendra :
Dédoublera chaque élément antérieur ;
Toujours de l'orbe calculée approchera ;
Définira limite ; enfin, l'arc, le limiteur
De cet inquiétant cercle, ennemi trop rebelle
Professeur, enseignez son problème avec zèle


How I like to teach this number useful to the wise.
Immortal Archimedes, artist, engineer,
in your opinion who could estimate its value?
For me, your problem had equal advantages.
Long ago, mysterious, a problem blocked
All the honorable process, the great work
That Pythagoras revealed to the Ancient Greeks.
Oh quadrature! Old philosopher's torment
Unsolvable roundness, for too long you have
Defied Pythagoras and his imitators.
How to integrate the plain circular space?
Form a triangle to which it is equivalent?
New invention: Archimedes will inscribe
Inside a hexagon; will appreciate its area
Function of a ray. Not too much to hold onto there:
Will split each previous element;
Always the calculated orb will approach
Will define the limit; finally, the arc, the limiter
Of this disturbing circle, an enemy too rebellious
Teacher, teach its problem with zeal

An alternative beginning:

Que j'aime à faire apprendre un nombre utile aux sages !
Glorieux Archimède, artiste, ingénieur,
Toi de qui Syracuse aime encore la gloire,
Soit ton nom conservé par de savants grimoires !

Katharevousa (archaizing) Greek

Yielding π to 22 decimal places:

Ἀεὶ ὁ Θεὸς ὀ Μέγας γεωμετρεῖ,
τὸ κύκλου μῆκος ἵνα ὁρίσῃ διαμέτρῳ,
παρήγαγεν ἀριθμὸν ἀπέραντον,
καὶ ὅν, φεῦ, οὐδέποτε ὅλον θνητοὶ θὰ εὕρωσι


The Great God applies geometry forever;
To define the length of the circle using its diameter,
He produced an infinite number,
Which, alas, mortals will never find in its entirety.


The following piem, giving π to 31 decimal places, is well known in Argentina:

Fue y cayó. Y queda solamente la inútil cifra con pocos destinos poderosos, tristes devenires sin el más sencillo bien. Idiota, re idiota, sabe que sus encantos son ya latosos decimales. Pobre...


It went and it fell. And only the useless figure remains, with little powerful destinies, sad future without the simplest goodness. Idiotic, very idiotic, it knows that its charms are now boring decimals. Poor...

Another. This piem gives π (correctly rounded) to 10 decimal places. (If you prefer to not round π, then replace "cosmos" with "cielo".)

Sol y luna y mundo proclaman al eterno Autor del Cosmos.


Sun and moon and world proclaim the eternal Author of the Cosmos. (Or "heaven", not Cosmos, if using "cielo".)


Níl i mata, a shaoi, eolaíocht nó feidhm. (7 decimal places) — "Wise one, mathematics has neither science nor use."


In the Russian language, there is a well-known phrase in the pre-1917-reform orthography of old tradition: "Кто и шутя, и скоро пожелаетъ «Пи» узнать число — ужѣ знаетъ." (The one who would wish to know the number Pi easily and quickly, already knows it.)

A more modern rhyme is:

Это я знаю и помню прекрасно,
I know the following and remember it perfectly,
Пи многие знаки мне лишни, напрасны.
Multitudes of the digits of Pi are unnecessary and idle for me.

A short approximation is: "Что я знаю о кругах?" (What do I know about circles?)

In addition, there are several non-folklore verses that simply rhyme the digits of Pi "as is"; for examples, see the Russian version of this article.


Był i jest i wieki sławionym ów będzie, który kół obwód średnicą wymierzył. (13 decimal places) — "There was, and there is, and through centuries renowned will be, who circle's circumference measured with its diameter."


Cai a neve e novas ferrovias de marfim serão por casas trocadas. (11 decimal places) — "The snow falls and new ivory railroads will be exchanged by houses."

Or in Brazilian Portuguese:

Sim, é útil e fácil memorizar um número grato aos sábios. — "Yes, it's useful and easy to memorize a number dear to the wisemen."
Nós e todo o mundo guardamos pi usando letra por número. — "We and all the world memorize pi using letter for number."
Sou o medo e temor constante do menino vadio. — "I'm the constant fear and dread of the stray boy."

A piem written in a more poetic manner:

Sou o amor,
o homem impetuoso da libido
Homem que ataca mulheres atraentes,
meninas pecadoras que no céu imiscuem amor, paixão, fé, desejo, tudo!
Até que idolatro com as sereias pecadoras tanta fé!
Esbeltas mulheres para o musculado,
sereias e fêmeas pecadoras
Até idolatram serpentes com ardente macho.
O viril desejará as pecadoras iníquas doravante para amar.


I am the love,
The impetuous man from the libido
Man who attacks attractive women,
sinfull maidens who on heaven intrude love, passion, faith, desire, everything!
I even idolize with the mermaids so much faith!
Luscious women for the brawny,
sinfull mermaids and females
They even idolize serpents with the burning buck.
The virile man will wish the sinfull and the iniquitous henceforth to love.


Japanese piphilology has countless mnemonics based on punning words with numbers. This is especially easy in Japanese because there are two or three ways to pronounce each digit, and the language has relatively few phonemes to begin with. For example, to 31 decimal places:[12]

一つ 一つ さん ざん
3. 1 4 1 5 9 2 6 5 3 5 8 9 7 9 3 2 3 8 4 6 2 6 4 3 3 8 3 2 7 9
mi hitotsu yo hitotsu iku ni mu-imi iwakunaku mi fumiya yomu niro yo san zan yami ni naku

This is close to being ungrammatical nonsense, but a loose translation prioritizing word order yields:

A person is one; the world is one:
to live this way, it's meaningless, one says, and cries,
"step on it, will ya!" then reads—be the same!
Crying uncontrollably in the dark.

Japanese children also use songs built on this principle to memorize the multiplication table.


It is possible to construct piphilogical poems in Chinese by using homophones or near-homophones of the numbers zero through nine, as in the following well known example which covers 22 decimal places of π. In this example the character meaning "mountain" (山 shān) is used to represent the number "three" (三 sān), the character meaning "I" (吾 ) is used to represent the number "five" (五 ), and the characters meaning "temple" (寺 ) and "die" (死 ) are used to represent the number "four" (四 ). Some of the mnemonic characters used in this poem, for example "kill" (殺 shā) for "three" (三 sān), "jug" (壺 ) for "five" (五 ), "happiness" (樂 ) for "six" (六 liù) and "eat" (吃 chī) for "seven" (七 ), are not very close phonetically in Mandarin Chinese.

shān diān jiǔ
3 . 1 4 1 5 9
ěr shā
2 6 5 3 5
jiǔ chī jiǔ shā ěr
8 9 7 9 3 2
shā ěr
3 8 4 6 2 6

This can be translated as:

On a mountain top a temple and a jug of wine.
Your happiness makes me so bitter;
Take some wine and drink, the wine will kill you;
If it does not kill you, I will rejoice in your happiness.


Sen, o alan o çevre bölününce ve sonsuz rakam ile çıkan değişken dizilimli sayısın. — "You are the number with infinite digits in changing order, which is found when the circumference and the area is divided."


Sám u sebe v hlavě magického pí číslic deset mám. (9 decimal places) — "I have ten digits of magical Pi in my head."

Lín a kapr u hráze prohlídli si rybáře, udici měl novou, jikrnáči neuplovou. (12 decimal places) — "Tench and carp by the dam watched the fisher. He has a new rod, fish will not escape."

Dej, ó Bože, a číslo Ludolfovo já navždy pomnu, pro větší naplnění moudrosti početní. (13 decimal places) — "Oh God, let me to remember the Pi forever, for the increase of mathematical skills."

Mám ó bože ó velký pamatovat si takový cifer řad, velký slovutný Archimedes, pomáhej trápenému, dej mu moc, nazpaměť nechť odříká ty slavné sice, ale tak protivné nám, ach, číslice Ludolfovy! (30 decimal places) — "Shall I, God oh almighty, remember such a long string of numbers, great and famous Archimedes, help my careworn being, give me the power, to recite by heart all the digits, which may be famous, but also hated by some of us, the digits of Ludolph van Ceulen."


Aşa e bine a scrie renumitul şi utilul număr. (8 decimal places) — "This is the way to write the renowned and useful number."


Čak i Grci i stari Vavilonci su kazali: obime kad deliš krugovim prečnikom dobijaš neophodan nam Pi. (16 decimal places) — "Even Greeks and Old Babylonians have told: when dividing circumferences with circle's diameter you obtain the indispensable Pi."

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ "Not A Wake: A Dream Embodying π's Digits Fully For 10000 Decimals". http://www.cadaeic.net/notawake.htm. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  2. ^ Raz A, Packard MG, Alexander GM, Buhle JT, Zhu H, Yu S, Peterson BS. (2009). A slice of pi : An exploratory neuroimaging study of digit encoding and retrieval in a superior memorist. Neurocase. 6:1-12. doi:10.1080/13554790902776896 PMID 19585350
  3. ^ "Pi calculation smashes records". http://www.physorg.com/news182067503.html. Retrieved 2010-05-12. 
  4. ^ O'Connor, J J; Robertson, E F. "A history of Pi". http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/HistTopics/Pi_through_the_ages.html. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  5. ^ "Pi calculation smashes records". http://www.physorg.com/news182067503.html. Retrieved 2010-05-12. 
  6. ^ (Japanese) "(broken link)". Yahoo! News. http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20061004-00000402-yom-soci. Retrieved 2007-02-02. [dead link]
  7. ^ "Japanese breaks pi memory record". BBC News. London. 2005-07-02. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/4644103.stm. Retrieved 2007-02-02. 
  8. ^ Borgmann, Dmitri A. (1965). Language on Vacation: An Olio of Orthographical Oddities. Charles Scribner's Sons. 
  9. ^ "Poe, E.: Near a Raven", cadaeic.net
  10. ^ "Not A Wake", cadaeic.net
  11. ^ "Math Forum » Discussions » History » math-history-list", Math Forum
  12. ^ (Japanese) 暗記法 Japanese mnemonics for π (and some other languages as well)

External links

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