1. Tethys says

    At the risk of pedantry…
    Or when sounding as A, like neighbor, and weigh. Wyrrd, but fascinating philology.

  2. Dunc says

    “I before e, except after c, when the sound is “ee”. For some reason everybody forgets the second half of the rule, then complains that it doesn’t work.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Dunc @ # 3: … when the sound is “ee”.

    Except for those weirdos -- most from some old island off to the northeast -- who pronounce “either” as “eye-ther”.

  4. prl says

    Not only is Einstein a German name, but German has simple and pretty much comprehensive ei/ie rules (with the possible exception of some foreign word imports): “ei” -- long “i”, as in “pie”, “ie” -- long “e” as in “see”.

  5. Dunc says

    WMDKitty, @4

    Dunc — “Ceiling”. “ee” sound, “ei” spelling…

    After “c”.

  6. Dunc says

    Please note that I’m not saying the full rule is absolutely perfect and without exceptions -- it’s English, after all -- merely that most of the exceptions which people bring up are based on an incomplete version of the rule.

  7. Holms says

    #4 WMD
    Dunc’s expanded rule might be phrased as “if the sound is ‘ee’, then i before e except after c”. Reversing the order I think makes it clearer. A more laborious phrasing might also be “if: the sound is ‘ee’, then: the rule ‘i before e except after c’ is true”. But however you phrase it, ceiling is a good example rather than an exception.

  8. kenbakermn says

    I just simplify rule to “i comes before e except when it doesn’t”.

    My biggest beef is the ‘gh’ letter combination. There are more different pronunciations than Donny T has chins. I have stopped using it in all my nonprofessional writing (I’m not a professional writer, I just mean the writing I do in my profession). It’s pretty easy to come up with alternatives that any one can understand, some already in common use: dautter, thru, draft (for draught), cauff, nite.

    Once I succeed in banish ‘gh’ I’ll work on the ‘qu’ combination. If we need a two-letter combination to make the ‘kw’ sound we already have one: ‘kw’. Then we can use q for something else, maybe the ‘sh’ sound. Same thing with x. Replace that with ‘ks’ and use x for something else, not sure what tho.

    And then we can stop using c for the k and s sounds, use k and s instead, and use c for the ‘ch’ or ‘tch’ sounds.

  9. Rob Grigjanis says

    kenbakermn: Thanks for the laff. When you’ve done all that, you can start on ‘ti’ as in ‘national’, etc.

  10. Allison says

    The problem with English spelling is that most of the spellings are hold-overs from wherever and whenever the word came from, sometimes with a “simplification” or two. (Thanks, Noah Webster.)

    Generally speaking, English words which come from Old English are spelled as they would have been in Middle English.
    All of the words with “gh” that I can think of have German cognates where the “gh” is the English version of German “ch”
    neighbor -> nachbar, through -> durch, eight -> acht, and I believe that in Middle English, the “gh” was pronounced like the “ch” in “loch.” (This connection helps me to remember the English spelling.)
    That’s also where combinations like “ea” come from — at one time, “bread” rhymed with “read”.

    Words that entered English due to the Norman conquest are spelled more or less like they would have been in some variety of Old French.

    More recent borrowings keep the spelling of the original. When the original spelling was in a non-Latin alphabet, how it’s spelled in English depends upon the transliteration rules used. So Russian Цар becomes “Czar” or “Tsar”. Same word, same pronunciation.

    In some languages, the practice is to respell the word to keep the pronunciation but fit in with that language’s spelling rules. Not English.

  11. Rob Grigjanis says

    The only worthwhile pronunciation poem I’ve come across;

    A lively young damsel named Menzies
    Inquired: “Do you know what this thenzies?”
    Her aunt, with a gasp,
    Replied: “It’s a wasp,
    And you’re holding the end where the stenzies.”

  12. R. Simons says

    #16 kenbakermn: The dough-faced, rough-coated ploughman strolled through Scarborough coughing and hiccoughing thoughtfully. (Can anyone work lough into the sentence?)

  13. jrkrideau says

    I see the wright has a right to his rite by the sea.

    There seems to be a lot of illiteracy in Anglophone communities. I wonder why?

  14. Rob Grigjanis says

    Height, weight. Yaughan. Having a surname like Cholmondeley or Featherstonehaugh, or coming from Woolfardisworthy, would be a hoot.

    People in North America can’t even say ‘Keswick’, ‘Tottenham’, ‘Hawick’ or ‘Worcester’ properly.

  15. Steve Cameron says

    I think comedian Brian Regan put it best when he said, “I before E except after C and sounding like A as in neighbor and weigh and on weekends and holidays and all throughout May you’ll always be wrong no matter what you say!”

  16. Steve Cameron says

    @Rob Grigjanis #25 :
    I hear you. Americans can’t even say the name of the city St. Louis right or the last name Dubois, and the word niche will often get a T mysteriously added so it rhymes with kitsch instead of quiche like it should.

  17. jrkrideau says

    @ 25 Rob Grigjanis
    People in North America can’t even say ‘Keswick’, ‘Tottenham’, ‘Hawick’ or ‘Worcester’ properly.
    Often true but the Cdn locals get a big kick out of UK and US visitors working on “Kapuskasing” and “Gananoque”. Heck most cannot pronounce “Toronto” correctly.

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