Synonyms are words that have similar or nearly similar meanings in the same language. ‘Nearly similar’ is part of the definition for findings have shown that it is so rare to get two words that are similar in all respect. In everyday language usage, people often interchange ‘cram’ and ‘memorise’ as though they both mean the same thing. Let’s study each word in a bit and make informed choice on the correct answers.
Cram has the primary meaning of pushing or forcing somebody or something into a small space. That is, there is a small space for a bigger person or thing in the case of cramming. This is the reason why an idiom like “crammed like sardines” exists. Any middle class Nigerian must have gotten the experience of being in a taxi, especially when you have one or two fat passengers who will never agree that they ought to pay for two. A passenger may say, “Driver, enter the car and let’s get going. As if cramming us in your car is not enough, you want to waste our time again!” This is what cramming means. And in relation to the memory, it means studying a lot of things in a short duration, in preparation for an exam. Simply, it is trying to store a lot of information within a short time. Here, cram is synonymous to swot.
You can memorise two lines of a poem but it would be inappropriate to ‘cram’ them because it is too short. You can memorise thirty verses of a religious scripture in one month but one month is a way too long to cram, which dictates a short time. While cram is in preparation for a test or examination, memorising may not necessarily be in preparation for anything, you may memorise just for the fun of it.
The error of equating these two words seemed to have sprung up as a result of people parroting what others say and having the belief that the meanings are same. Just as we all learn our first language in a sub-conscious state, that is, listening and imitating others’ speech, we acquire the meanings of words the same way. It is similar to the error people make in the replacement of ‘runway’ with ‘catwalk’, which is only a noun and not a verb. (Read a story here SO THAT YOU DON’T BECOME LIKE ME)
That is, ‘cram’ is a word and ‘memorize’ is another!