Mnemonics · Trivia

Quiz Research and Mnemonics: UK Cities, Part 1 (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland)

In the last few weeks, several quiz shows on British TV have featured questions about UK cities. Three jackpot rounds in the latest series of “Tenable” have been based on the subject, but none of the teams could come up with the required 10 answers. If any of them had, they would have won some cash. I fell short on the first two of these questions and spent some time researching UK cities, creating a few reminders and mnemonics along the way. This meant that I was able to get all 10 answers for the third of these jackpot questions (on Monday 22 March). The rest of this piece, and its follow-up, offer the results of my research, with examples of recent questions from UK quiz shows.

My starting point for researching information about UK cities was this list on Wikipedia: List of cities in the United Kingdom.

Introduction: as of 2021, there are 69 UK cities

As things stand, in March 2021, there are 69 places in the UK that have City Status. Before 2000 there were 58, so be aware that this is a list that grows from time to time. It happened most recently in the years when Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Golden Jubilee (2002) and Diamond Jubilee (2012).

The breakdown for the four countries that make up the United Kingdom and the number of cities in each is as follows:

Scotland 7

Northern Ireland 5

Wales 6

England 51

This is the order in which I will deal with them, with the English cities spilling over into a separate piece.

Scotland: 7 cities (Mnemonic: I Gasped)

A digression about “Gordon Ramsay’s Bank Balance”

For three weeks, beginning at 9pm on Wednesday 24 February, BBC1 gave up an hour-long slot on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights to a new quiz show called “Gordon Ramsay’s Bank Balance”. Most of the show was taken up with set-up and chat. Unlike other quiz shows the host (Ramsay himself) swore. The questions were list-based and required the contestants to name up to 5 items per category. There were many questions where the contestants were unable to find a single correct answer. Here are some examples, along with the incorrect answers that were offered: Books in the Old Testament (Icarus), Events in a decathlon (800 metres), “Strictly Come Dancing” winners (Susannah Reid), current or former members of the Rolling Stones (Barry Stone; yes, really).

One of the questions in the first week (and it’s one of the reasons I started creating these mnemonics) required the contestants to name cities in Scotland. They went wrong with Falkirk. It is not a city, and Ramsay happily described as a “shit-hole”. (I told you there was swearing; you don’t get that kind of language from Bradley Walsh.) When the correct answers were revealed, I noticed that the initial letters form the phrase “I Gasped”, so that’s my first mnemonic for UK Cities.

The 7 cities represented by “I Gasped”

The 7 Scottish cities represented by “I Gasped” are:

Inverness, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Stirling, Perth, Edinburgh, Dundee.

NOTE: Followers of Scottish football will know that there are clubs called Brechin City and Elgin City but don’t be fooled by this. Brechin and Elgin do not have official UK city status.

Northern Ireland: 5 cities (Mnemonic: Bland)

I have no digressions here about new quiz shows and hosts using post-watershed language. The 5 cities in Northern Ireland can be remembered using the acronym Bland:

Belfast, Lisburn, Armagh, Newry, Derry.

Wales: 6 cities (Mnemonic: CBSNSS, or C-Business, without the vowels)

There are 6 cities in Wales, and none of them begins with either a vowel or the letter “w”, which can be used in words like “cwm” to create a vowel sound. My mnemonic here is the expression “C-Business”, without the vowels:

Cardiff, Bangor, Swansea, Newport, St David’s, St Asaph.

NOTE: There is also a place in Northern Ireland called Bangor but it’s not a city.

England: 51 cities, covered in a separate piece

You can memorize the 18 UK cities outside of England fairly easily. The mnemonics listed so far work for me, and should provide a decent start for most people. If you come up with something that works better for you, leave a Comment below.

Trying to memorize the 51 cities in England is another matter. To prevent this piece from becoming too unwieldy, English cities are covered in a separate piece, here.


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