Mnemonics for the
Harvard Spectral Classification Scheme


The modern stellar spectral classification scheme (also known as the Harvard Spectral Classification Scheme) was created by Annie Jump Cannon through her examination of spectra from 1918 to 1924. Originally, the scheme used capital letters running alphabetically, but was later reordered to reflect the surface temperatures of stars. In order of decreasing temperature, these types were O, B, A, F, G, K. and M. Three additional categories also in the scheme: R, N, and S types, were later realized to represent stars with peculiar heavy-metal abundances. Other types (Q for novae, W for Wolf-Rayet stars, etc) are not encountered frequently. According to astronomical myth, Henry Norris Russell suggested the following mnemonic to assist students in remembering the scheme:

Oh Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me!

There have been many efforts since to improve on this mnemonic. The motivations are various: to include the R, N, and S and even W stellar types, to find a mnemonic for the vast number of astronomers who would really not want to be kissed by a girl, by the feeling that really we can't let Russell have the last word on this subject, or just as a fun homework assignment for students. Owen Gingerich (CfA) holds an annual contest in his "The Astronomical Perspective" course , and a summary of many winning submissions was published in his article "The Great Mnemonics Contest" in Phyllis Lugger, ed, ASTEROIDS TO QUASARS: A SYMPOSIUM HONOURING WILLIAM LILLER (Cambridge University Press, 1991). The Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy also held a competition on the subject in 1995 and Russell's mnemonic (subject to the substitute of Guy or Gal for Girl) remained the most popular of the submissions. Our humble efforts, which draw on all these resources, plus many suggestions from others, are presented here.

The Traditional

  1. Oh Be A Fine [Guy/Gal/Girl] Kiss Me (Right Now [Smack/Sweetheart]).
  2. Oh Begone, A Friend's Gonna Kiss Me (Right Now Smack).
  3. Only Boys Accepting Feminism Get Kissed Meaningfully.


  1. Official Bureaucrats At Federal Government Kill Many Researchers' National Support
  2. Only Big Astronomy Federal Grants Keep Money. Research Needs Support!

The Joys of College

  1. Oh Boy! Another Failing Grade Keeps Me Reconsidering Night School.
  2. Oh Bother, Astronomers Frequently Give Killer Midterms.
  3. Oh Bother, Another F's Gonna Kill Me.
  4. Oh [Beautiful/Brutal/Big] And [Fine/Fearless/Ferocious] Gorilla, [Kill/Kidnap] My Roommate Next Saturday.
  5. Old Boring Astronomers Find Great Kicks Mustily Regaling Napping Students.
  6. Obese Balding Astronomer Found Guilty Killing Many Reluctant Nonscience Students.

Appeals to Physics and Astronomy

  1. Observationalists Basically Are Fine Generous Kind Men (Really Not Sexist)
    (credited to Wendy Haugen-Bauer, Wellesley College)
  2. Oh Backward Astronomer, Forget Geocentricity;
    Kepler's Motions Reveal Nature's Simplicity.
    (Ohhhh... it rhymes!)
  3. Organs Blaring and Fugues Galore,
    Kepler's Music Reads Nature's Score.
    (Oh... so does this one. Do I get impressed too easily?)
  4. Out Beyond Andromeda, Fiery Gases Kindle Many Radiant New Stars.
  5. Orbs, Bright And Fair, Generate Kinder Memories: Revolving Nighttime Skies.
  6. Only Bright Astral Fires Going Kaput Make Real Neutron Stars.

For the old film buffs

  1. Overseas [Bulletin/Broadcast]: A Flash! Godzilla Kills Mothra! (Rodan Named Successor).

Appeals to Mechanics

  1. Oil Buffers A Fragile Gasket, Keeps Motors Running Nearly Smooth.

Alternative Cuisine

  1. Oh, Bring A Fully Grown Kangaroo
    My Recipe Needs Some!
    [This 1969 prize winner claims to be a haiku, but poetic purists point out the match to the haiku form is imperfect]
  2. Oven-Baked Ants, when Fried Gently, and Kept Moist, Retain Natural Succulence.


  1. When Obstreperous Beasts Approach, Fragrant Geraniums Knowingly May Receive Night's Stigmata.
    [A rare mnemonic that includes W (Wolf-Rayet) stars]
  2. Old Bottles And Filthy Garbage Kill Many Rare Natural Species.
  3. Oregon Beavers Attack Famous Gardens, Killing Many, Rangers Now Shooting.
  4. One Bug Ate Five Green Killer Moths.

Submissions which defy categorization...

  1. Occupied Baker's Assistants Forget Giant Kitchen Mouse, Receive Nasty Scratches.
  2. Only Bungling Astronomers Forget Generally Known Mnemonics!
  3. Only Boring Astronomers Find Gratification Knowing Mnemonics!
  4. Our Brother Andrew Found Green Killer Martians.


Web page author: Jesse S. Allen