In U.K., 'I Before E' No More "I before e, except after c." It's a hallowed spelling rule that's been passed on from teacher to student the world over. Now, teachers in Britain are being told to stop because there are too many exceptions. Ben Schott, blogger and author of Schott's Miscellany 2008: An Almanac, offers his insight.
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In U.K., 'I Before E' No More

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

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

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

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/105828991/105830400" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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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."