In U.K., 'I Before E' No More

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Transcript

For teachers, it's a hallowed rule that's been given the proverbial boot; for students, raised in the security of spell check, it's one less thing to remember: Britain is doing away with the famous spelling mnemonic "i before e, except after c."

New government guidelines advise primary schools that the old saw is so irrelevant and confusing, it is "not worth teaching."

Ben Schott calls it "an annoying edict about an annoying rule."

Schott, who writes the blog Schott's Vocab: A Miscellany of Modern Words and Phrases for The New York Times Web site, tells Robert Siegel the rule was irrelevant because of the number of exceptions.

"It's the kind of thing to seize a feisty, heinous foreigner like me. ... Seize, feisty, heinous and foreigner are all 'e before i' words that have no 'c,' " he says. "Have they got nothing better to do? It's an exercise in futility."

The rule has some defenders, however. They say that it works when the word is pronounced "ay" as in "neighbor" or "weigh."

Schott's take: "But that kind of ruins the cadence of the rather trite thought that it is."

Schott acknowledges the importance of rules and some guidelines, noting that it would otherwise be "crazy." But, he says, "I'd much rather that children were taught to communicate, calculate and cohabit rather than worry about the absolute correct source of spelling. I think we have better things to do."



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.