I am having trouble coming up with the word to describe a small memory which stands out amongst others. I thought of the word 'aphorism', describing a small and concise phrase, but I'm searching for a word more directly related to memory and in any concise, strong way - like an object, picture, or sound that can trigger or best capture the memory of a whole day or event.

Thank you for any input on this!

Edit: A phrase is fine, but a single word is ideal.

  • 2
    Perhaps, a vivid memory of some experience or point in time.
    – njboot
    May 28, 2014 at 4:18
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    A seminal memory is often used to refer a vivid memory of an influential or personality defining event.
    – Neil W
    May 28, 2014 at 4:27
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    A reminiscence ?
    – ermanen
    May 28, 2014 at 4:34
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    +1 Good question. In fact, memory is also used in precisely the sense you asked for. Consider memories: individual items one remembers.
    – Kris
    May 28, 2014 at 4:35
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    @568ml it seems to be asking both for a word for a memory and for an object that triggers the memory; it isn't entirely clear which is really wanted.
    – Jules
    May 28, 2014 at 15:04

6 Answers 6


Technically, it would be engram:

A physical alteration thought to occur in living neural tissue in response to stimuli, posited as an explanation for memory.

A better explanation:

Associative retrieval is an automatic reminding process. It occurs when a cue automatically triggers an experience of remembering. Strategic retrieval is a slow deliberate search of memory to generate hints and cures. Strategic retrieval interrogates the automatic retrieval process.

Encoding the experience strengthen the connections between groups of neurons. The resulting transient or enduring changes in our brains are called engrams. The engram is the representation of a memory in the brain. A retrieval cue induces a pattern of activity: if this pattern is similar to a previously encoded pattern you remember the event.

Non-technically, it would be reminiscence:

  • an event that brings to mind a similar, former event.
  • an event, phenomenon, or experience that reminds one of something else.
  • the act or process of recalling the past.
  • a mental impression retained and recalled from the past.
  • Probably the best answer. ie, if we asked 20 neural researchers, I bet 15 would say "well we use engram for that, but given that nobody has a clue yet about consciousness or brain functioning" and five flakey new-age fringe researchers would say "Mnemon!" :) that's my guess anyway
    – Fattie
    May 28, 2014 at 5:53
  • Mnemon is a theoretical word and I couldn't find any scientific explanation for that.
    – ermanen
    May 28, 2014 at 13:21

Mnemon a theoretical fundamental unit of memory

  • Perfect, this is exactly what I am looking for. I am also interested if there are words which mean something very similar to this, but (for a lack of a better way of saying it), sounds cooler.
    – pzenger
    May 28, 2014 at 4:51
  • A synonym? Doing a 'Artaxerxes II' ;-)
    – Third News
    May 28, 2014 at 4:54
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    @Joe Blow a quote is a quote is a quote
    – Third News
    May 28, 2014 at 6:20
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    However, this does not factor the 'trigger' concept. I am not sure how the OP has accepted the answer. Mnemon is a formal technical term for nothing more than 'memory' in the sense I quoted in my answer. In general English writing, Mnemon would sound so out of place.
    – Kris
    May 28, 2014 at 9:04

(a) memory

2 Something remembered from the past: one of my earliest memories is of sitting on his knee

That 'something' corresponds pretty well to the OP's idea of "a small memory … like an object, picture, or sound."

However, I would definitely prefer a more specific term for the kind of "trigger" that evokes a whole episode. Let's see what the other have to say.

  • I ignored the trigger part of the question, since it seemed confusing and irrelevant. The (theoretical) small, central "basic unit" of, "quantum of" human memory seems to be referred to by one of the two words in the answers here; and sometimes some others. Daniel Dennett books, for instance, would be the perfect source here (I forgot what Dennett currently uses for this term). (Dennett is not as good as Dawkins at making incredibly catchy words/phrases - Dennet is always trying to come up with something as catchy as his buddy Dawkins, but he has not got there yet :) )
    – Fattie
    May 28, 2014 at 5:56
  • @JoeBlow However, the trigger is the central point of OP's question, it's not just any item of memory but one that brings up related memories.
    – Kris
    May 28, 2014 at 9:01

Try recollection. This word refers to the things brought back by memory.

Mnemon and engram intend to refer to insignificant, atomic units, not something like a mental picture.


I would say that evocation works, especially if it is emotional.

the act of bringing something into the mind or memory : the act of evoking something

If it is an object, words, picture, and so on then a good term is mnemonic.

  • 1
    this would seem to be unrelated to the question
    – Fattie
    May 28, 2014 at 5:45
  • dude a mnemonic is when you use some trick, to remember something. it's not a "unit of memory".
    – Fattie
    May 28, 2014 at 5:51
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    @JoeBlow - a mnemonic triggers a memory. He is not asking for a memory unit. He is asking what is the object called that triggers a memory. Please read question. May 28, 2014 at 5:54
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    you know what, you are totally correct. Actually, the question is complete crap and wasting our time. The problem is the heading says one thing (extremely clearly) and the tail of the question says something utterly different (very clearly). Thanks for pointing this out, Rye.
    – Fattie
    May 28, 2014 at 5:59
  • @JoeBlow - I did have to read it three times. May 28, 2014 at 6:06

The type of memory event that involves a discrete stimuli evoking a flood of strong memories is called redintegration or redintegrative memory.


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