The "ABCD" mnemonic to assist non-experts' diagnosis of melanoma is widely promoted; however, there are good reasons to be sceptical about public education strategies based on analytical, rule-based approaches--such as ABCD (i.e. Asymmetry, Border Irregularity, Colour Uniformity and Diameter). Evidence suggests that accurate diagnosis of skin lesions is achieved predominately through non-analytical pattern recognition (via training examples) and not by rule-based algorithms. If the ABCD are to function as a useful public education tool they must be used reliably by untrained novices, with low inter-observer and intra-diagnosis variation, but with maximal inter-diagnosis differences. The three subjective properties (the ABCs of the ABCD) were investigated experimentally: 33 laypersons scored 40 randomly selected lesions (10 lesions × 4 diagnoses: benign naevi, dysplastic naevi, melanomas, seborrhoeic keratoses) for the three properties on visual analogue scales. The results (n = 3,960) suggest that novices cannot use the ABCs reliably to discern benign from malignant lesions.