Weighing in on the ancient ‘I before E except after C’ rule

Back when I was at school English spelling was simple: I had to come before E, except after C.

It was an iron-clad rule. No kid or their neighbour deigned to seize the moment by disagreeing. The usual forfeit was swift reinforcement, either via some heinous and weird punishment, by seismic kick to the keister, or something in similar vein.

Feisty students were not allowed at this school, so seeing the efficiency with which teachers enforced their sovereign reign, and the weight of their surveillance, it was better to show obeisance to the rule.

It was weird that even eight foreign exceptions were neither reinforced nor allowed to inveigle their way in: herein was the rule, and neither weight of argument nor a surfeit of evidence could seize the attention of the efficient teachers. No skein of seigniorial deification, nor leisured reissue of a dictionary, no feigning of onomatopoeia, stopped the ancient rule being applied. Even an appeal to cheiromancy failed.

Foreseeing trouble, and not wishing to be reisolated, I decided to feign agreement. And so it was that I came before E, except after C; and science of it was never part of the zeitgeist; and a veil was drawn over English, along with the 44 words therein that obeyed the ‘I before E’ rule, as opposed to the 923 that did not.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2017

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19 thoughts on “Weighing in on the ancient ‘I before E except after C’ rule

  1. My English language thing is championing the serial comma. I’d be interested to know your stance on it. I’d also like to thank my ability to write this comment on my friends, Sartre and Mozart.

  2. My friend, Keith, also has issues with the i-b4-e rule. When caffeinated and working his weights, he gets feisty, especially before eight in the morning. He lives up north and takes his sleigh to the bank where he catalogs counterfeit beige bills. Yup, I love your article. LOL.

  3. As far as I’m aware, although had never thought about it before, until I read your blog, I was brought up with the ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’ rule and to this day still abide by it as far as I know. Although, in saying that I didn’t realise how many words there are or could be that didn’t follow this rule, therefore may have, be inadvertently not following the rule ie as in spelling some words ‘automatically’, as I was taught, without thinking of or questioning the rule. Interesting post and one that did make me have one of those shake my head, laugh moments.

    1. It was drummed into me… but it’s actually not a rule by majority number. What counts, anyway, is whether words clearly convey the intended meaning of their author – because words are merely a vehicle for that meaning, as a way of invoking emotion in those who receive them – something true of any of the arts. The rules have to be known and understood… which enables those who understand them to then create something wonderful by creatively breaking them (I ‘got’ this from music, which I studied a lot longer than writing and which has a far greater intuitive power as far as I am concerned.)

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