To start with, we always believe them. Adults. Authority figures. We are small, and they are large and impossibly wise. We might impulsively disobey them, but for a time it doesn’t occur to us that they could actually be wrong. The timing of this revelation is as unique as the timing of any other aspect of our development. For me, much to parents’ discomfort, it was by about the age of nine, making me the only child to be suspended from Research Primary School on four separate occasions. All were for arguing with teachers on matters of logic and principle. For others it didn’t hit until the early teens, for some it held off until Year 12. Some small number of people manage to go their whole lives without questioning authority. To them the idea is terrifying; it means they might actually have to take some responsibility for their own lives and decisions.
But generally, as we age, we start to realise just how many lies we’ve been told. They told us that drugs would make us crazy and criminal, but most of my friends just seemed to have a real good time. They told us that cracking our knuckles would give us arthritis by fifteen, and here I type with fingers as limber as a Latvian gymnast. I have written hundreds of thousands of words for the sake of writing, and probably millions in correspondence. But it says so much about the inherent trust we place in these figures, and the level to which they abuse this trust, that I had somehow reached the age of 27, with nearly two decades of rational questioning thought behind me, and still never consciously noticed the magnitude of this most abhorrent and enduring of lies.
I before E, except after C.
This is what they told us. If you think back, you can probably see them now. A dusty portable classroom, late afternoon, with beams of sunlight cutting through the motes in the air. Or a cold winter morning under fluorescent tubes. The carpet hard and corded under the palms of your hands where you place them behind you, bracing your weight. Your legs crossed like a good kid. And that teacher standing up there, whoever it was for you. A beard and corduroy pants, or a tied-up bun and a wicker basket under the desk, or, like the ones you fell in love with, a colourful skirt and a vivid gauzy scarf. They stand up there and they tell you the rule. I before E except after C. That’s how we spell, kids. That’s how it’s done. And that rule sank deep into you, into your skull plates and brain tissue, like radiation into Lucas Heights bedrock. To this day the phrase comes back at you, whole and entire. And to this day it is a lie, brazen and glaring as a brass band at full force in the noonday sun.
This is why you need smart friends. It took the enquiring mind of Mr Fox to notice the anomaly. He’d been chewing on it for some time, and he could think of plenty of words where it didn’t apply. Height. Weight. Being. Neither either nor neither obeyed the liars’ rule. The veil was lifted. Their heinous heist became forfeit. We would seize their reign at our leisure. Off the top of our heads, we came up with:
height, weight, being, seize, foreign, vein, reinforce, beige, veil, weird, sovereign, kaleidoscope, heinous, heist, forfeit, feint, leisure, their, neither, either, seeing, seizure, eight, atheist, heir, poltergeist, zeitgeist, reincarnation, feign, deign, neighbour, sleigh, feisty, rein, seize, stein, caffeine, freight, reiki, queueing, reign, hieing, kneeing, fleeing, teeing, peeing, freeing, decreeing, agreeing, geeing, squeegeeing, BeeGeeing (the act of impersonating the Bee Gees).
If you can think of any more obvious everyday ones, feel free to include them in the Comments section. No Googling, please. We also deliberately ommitted plurals and permutation strings like neighbour/neighbours/neighbourly/neighbouring/neighbourhood, in order to avoid falsely swelling the numbers. The evidence is damning enough. And we’ve avoided archaic words. But this list is not all. There are two more subset lists. In the words of Mr Fox, “These words are big offenders. ‘Except after C’ my arse! More like ‘especially after C!'” Bam.
society, species, science, ancient, sufficient, efficient, fancied, conscience, glacier, icier, inadequacies, democracies, captancies, concierge, deficiency, hacienda, jucier, bouncier, omniscient, conscientious.
We’ve realised that pretty much any noun or adjective ending in a ‘cy’ (consultancy, racy) will use a ‘cie’ to form its plural or its comparative and/or superlative (consultancies, racier/raciest). There must be dozens. So again, we’ll avoid those permutation strings. And finally, “there is no reason names should be an exception, otherwise it should have been “I before E except after C and except for names.” Viz:
Einstein, Tony Greig, Keith Richards, Rammstein, Frankenstein, Heineken, Neil, Budweiser, Timothy McVeigh, Carl Reich, Sir Walter Raleigh, Keira Knightley, Barbara Streisand, Seinfeld, Rachel Weiss, Heidi Fleiss (double jeopardy!), Carl Zeiss, Calvin Klein, The River Seine, George Speight.
Justice will be done.