Continuing the description of books on words listed in the introductory post, which you’ll find here.
Book 18: i before e (except after c):
Hardback, 175 pages. Subtitled ‘old-school ways to remember stuff’, and carrying occasional line drawing illustrations, it was first published in 2007 by Michael O’Mara Books Ltd. I paid £9.99 for it at the time of publication. The book doesn’t appear to have been reprinted or revised and you can now buy a used copy from around £2.80.
I bought it to aid my memory, which is poor in certain areas, and this volume is full of mnemonics. Divided into 17 chapters, it deals with English Language, Spelling, Numbers, Geography, Animal, vegetable, mineral, Time and calendar, the Night Sky, Science, British history, World history, Music, Foreign languages, Religion, the Body, Life-savers, Work, and ends with a Miscellaneous section. With so many subject headings in such a small book, depth of treatment can hardly be expected. This is a book designed to answer those odd but frequent questions and to provide you with a way of remembering the answers.
Opening randomly, at pages 96/97, I’ll attempt to give you a flavour of its contents and style. Page 96 starts Chapter 8, The World of Science. It gets straight to the point with an introduction to the Period Table of Elements and, on page 97, goes on to list them, using the lyrics of the famous Tom Lehrer song, sung to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General’.
I wonder if the book has gone out of fashion now that the expression repeated in its title ‘i before e except after c’ has been shown as inaccurate, since by no means all spellings follow that once popular rule. In common with most rules on English spellings, there are exceptions, quaintly referred to as ‘irregulars’. ‘Concierge’ immediately comes to mind as an example, and, of course, ‘science’ and all its derivatives. But this small ‘error’ shouldn’t overrule the usefulness of the rest of the book as a guide in so many other areas. For example, in the section dealing with The Human Body we are given the following sample of doctor’s shorthand for patients with a grim prognosis; F BUNDY, which means ‘F***ed But Unfortunately Not Dead Yet.
English is a complex language, made up of words from many countries, and it borrows rules of grammar, punctuation and even style from those originating lands, which makes it interestingly familiar to learners but also frequently frustratingly baffling to the same students.