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Mar 18, 2019
This week’s theme
Words that violate the i-before-e rule

This week’s words

i before e
“It’s eye before flea, except after sea.”
Cartoon: Dan Piraro

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with Anu Garg

I before E, except after C,
Or when sounded as A,
As in neighbor and weigh.

So goes the ancient rhyme many of us learned in school. It was supposed to help us rein in the ogreish beast that is English orthography and help us attain spelling proficiency. Like all rules, however, this one is no exception to exceptions.

It has so many exceptions that the rule is really counterfeit. It’s actually disproven by science: Nathan Cunningham, a feisty PhD student in statistics, has hard numbers.

More words break the rule than follow it. Some do it twice, for example, oneiromancies. (Also consider ‘Einstein’.)

This week we look at five words that show what the i-before-e rule really is: Fake news!

PS: That said, it’s recommended to consult (at least twice) this rule and any other rules you can find before writing something permanent, as in, written in stone. Consider this grave marker (“neice”) or this tattoo (“Carpe deim”)


(REV-uh-lee, ri-VAL-ee)

1. A signal to wake up in the morning, using a bugle, trumpet, etc., at military installations.
2. Any signal to get out of bed.
3. The hour at which a wake-up signal is sounded.

From French réveillez (wake up!), from réveiller (to awaken), from re- (again) + eveiller (to rouse), from Latin exvigilare (to keep watch), from ex- (out) + vigilare (to be awake or keep watch), from vigil (awake). Ultimately from the Indo-European root weg- (to be strong or lively), which also gave us vegetable, vigor, velocity, watch, vigilante, vedette, vegete, and velitation. Earliest documented use: 1633.

“An alarm clock that wakes you with the scent of chocolate? It sounds like something Willy Wonka would create, but the Sensorwake Olfactory Alarm Clock is available from Harrods. Within two minutes of reveille, one of seven fragrances (including seaside, croissants, espresso, and grass) will intensify gradually until you are ready to face the day.”
Katrina Burroughs; Katrina Burroughs Rounds Up the Latest and Cleverest Gadgets You Didn’t Know You Needed; Sunday Times (London, UK); Sep 18, 2016.

See more usage examples of reveille in Vocabulary.com’s dictionary.

Smaller than a breadbox, bigger than a TV remote, the average book fits into the human hand with a seductive nestling, a kiss of texture, whether of cover cloth, glazed jacket, or flexible paperback. -John Updike, writer (18 Mar 1932-2009)

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