Dear Mr. Lederer: My favorite English teacher in 10th grade (we’re going back to 1970 here) was one of my best teachers of all time. She encouraged us all to be our best. What else can anyone ask from a teacher? As for the rule of “i before e, except after c,” her name, oddly, was Sheila Meister. Funny that my English teacher’s first and last names conflicted with that famous spelling rule.
Shortly after my 30th high school reunion, I made the classic call that every teacher wants to hear. I told her how much she meant to me, how she encouraged me, how she believed in me, how I went onto earn a B.S. degree in journalism largely because of her caring about me. I could tell she was starting to cry over the phone. Perhaps teachers live for a moment like that. I was so grateful to be the one who enabled her to have that moment in time. –Mary Jo Crowley, Escondido
Dear Mary Jo: The most renowned of mnemonic spelling jingles advises:
I before e,
Except after c,
Unless sounded as a,
As in neighbor and weigh.
You don’t have to be Sheila Meister to realize that the i-before-e rule is breached as often as it is observed. If you want to find out just how many proper names violate the rule, remember this sentence: “Eugene O’Neil and Dwight Eisenhower drank a 35-degree Fahrenheit Budweiser and Rheingold in Anaheim and Leicester.“ You also don’t have to be an Einstein to see that the name Einstein itself is a double violation of the i-before-e rule, along with the likes of Weinstein, Feinstein, deficiencies, efficiencies, proficiencies and zeitgeist.
Among the scores of instances in which e precedes i in uncapitalized words are these dozen words: caffeine, counterfeit, either, feisty, heifer, height, kaleidoscope, leisure, omniscient, protein, seize, sovereign and therein.
And among more scores of words in which c is immediately followed by ie I offer these dozen: ancient, concierge, conscience, fancier, financier, glacier, omniscient, science, society, species, sufficient and tendencies.
To show how much this rule was made to be broken, I’ve contrived a little poem that I hope will leave you spellbound. In my ditty, I’ve spelled every relevant word according to the “i-before —e, except-after- c” rule; as a result, each of those words is misshapen.
E-I, I-E — Oh?
There’s a rule that’s sufficeint, proficeint, efficeint.
For all speceis of spelling in no way deficeint.
While the glaceirs of ignorance icily frown,
This soveriegn rule warms, like a thick iederdown.
On words fiesty and wierd it shines from great hieghts,
Blazes out like a beacon, or skien of ieght lights.
It gives nieghborly guidance, sceintific and fair,
To this nonpariel language to which we are hier.
Now, a few in soceity fiegn to deride
And, to forfiet thier anceint and omnisceint guide,
Diegn to worship a diety foriegn and hienous,
Whose counterfiet riegn is certain to pain us.
In our work and our liesure, our agenceis, schools,
Let us all wiegh our consceince, sieze proudly our rules!
It’s plebiean to lower our standards. I’ll niether
Give in or give up — and I trust you won’t iether!
If you still don’t believe that I’m telling the truth about the multitudinous violations of the i-before-e-rule, you are welcome to ask the Deity.
Tomorrow, October 23, starting at 3 pm, Richard Lederer will present “Fascinating Facts About Our Presidents” at the Coronado Library. He’ll reprise his presidential performance at the Oceanside Library next Saturday, October 29, starting at 2 pm. Admission is open and free at both performances. Rich would love to meet you at one of his shows.