A few years ago I looked up all the words that don’t conform to the I before E except after C rule of English spelling. I found more words than I had expected. I ended up writing a short tale containing 66 unique exceptions to the rule:
Feisty old Keith lives in the sovereign state of Brunei and is heir to the reign of the sheik. He’s a foreign species in a society of nescient financiers. With sleight of hand, in a heinous heist at the hacienda of the Reich, Keith seized a freight of eight buddleias. His forfeit was to either guess the height of a gneiss statue of a deity or to whistle a leitmotiv; he deigned to do neither, feigning injury to be pardoned.
Keith deifies heifers and feeds them seitan when they are deficient in protein. This he does conscientiously, reining in the dose if he suspects a surfeit may induce seizure. In such a case he would inject codeine into their veins.
After noticing seiches on the lake, Keith was prescient enough to efficiently conduct a scientific seismic survey of the weir before fishing with his seine net.
In his leisure time Keith relaxes among teil trees, veiled in his beige eider-down peignoir while proficiently spinning a dreidel, sipping from a seidel of beer.
Heigh-ho, that’s sufficient weight to the tale of weird Keith’s conscience. Don’t even start me on his neighbour Deirdre, an expert on ancient glaciers!
I found even more exceptions to the rule, but I couldn’t figure out how to fit them into my (otherwise perfectly plausible and coherent) story. The words I left out are: cepheid, deicide, deictic, teiidae, cleidoic, gleization, greige and greisen.
Apparently, since I wrote my daft little tale, the I before E rule has been dropped from the national curriculum.
So, what can we learn from Keith’s story? Sometimes rules can be pretty misleading, counterproductive or redundant. Don’t simply accept every rule you are told. I’m not suggesting complete anarchy, but ask a few questions such as:
- Why is this a rule?
- How long has this rule been in place?
- Is this rule still relevant?
- What happens if I break the rule?
- Could we actually do something amazing by breaking the rule?
Remember, if the Ghostbusters hadn’t broken their rules, they wouldn’t have defeated the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man.