The Need For
by Mad Dog
The British government has recommended that teachers stop
passing along the “i before e” nonsense because rules are rules and
if there are exceptions it’s not a rule.
||For generations every
school child has been taught that it’s "i before e, except after
c." True there are exceptions to the rule, but face it, there are
very few things in life that are absolutes. Even relativity, evolution,
and the existence of Bigfoot are theories. At least the first two are
anyway. But that doesn’t mean we should retire our tried and true
memory joggers. Unless, that is, you want to take the advice of the
In a set of guidelines called
"Support For Spelling," the British government has recommended
that elementary school teachers stop passing along the “i before e”
nonsense because rules are rules and if there are exceptions it’s not
a rule. Besides, if zero tolerance programs are in place that consider
nail clippers to be a weapon and Tylenol a drug worthy of a week’s
suspension, then the very existence of anomalies like “sufficiently
weird in their minds” is anathema. By the way, if you need an easy way
to remember how to spell “anathema,” just remember that, well,
it’s spelled exactly as it sounds.
It’s a shame about “i before e”
because, even though it might not be one hundred percent accurate all
the time, it’s still a handy mnemonic. Mnemonics, for those who are
too busy waiting to find out if the Jonas Brothers are going to record a
Michael Jackson tribute album to pull out the dictionary, are memory
aids that are often longer and more convoluted than the word or phrase
they’re supposed to help you remember, yet somehow work. They’re the
hints an elementary school teacher planted in your mind that, try as you
may to stop them, still pop into your head, even if you don’t need
With all these mnemonics clogging up my brain, is it any
wonder I walk into a room and forget why I went in there?
For example, I have no problem spelling “dessert,” yet each
time I write the word I never fail to think, “It has two esses because
you always want seconds.” Worse, I think the same thing when I write
“desert.” And thinking it never fails to make me hungry for sweets.
Damn you, Mrs. Clausen! My expanded waistline is your fault!
Luckily most mnemonics are rock
solid, so the British government will leave its hands off them. Every
time we change Daylight Savings Time I think “spring ahead, fall
back.” I remember the colors of the rainbow thanks to Roy G. Biv,
though also in part to a song from a children’s record from when I was
young—“orange, indigo, violet, yellow...orange, indigo, violet,
yellow...”—that plays in my head each time I see a rainbow. Or write
the word. Or see the Gay Pride flag, which is not always a good time to
break out in song.
I know the musical notes of the
treble clef lines because “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” though
sometimes they “Deserve Fudge.” I remember the Great Lakes thanks to
“HOME.” And I wonder why “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us
Nine Pizzas” is easier to remember than the actual names of the
planets in order (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus,
Neptune, Pluto) when it’s just as long. With all these mnemonics
clogging up my brain, is it any wonder I walk into a room and forget why
I went in there? Okay, other than to get dessert, which has two esses
because...aw, forget it.
Here’s a handy way to
keep your messaging lengths straight: "Twitter 140, twenty longer
for text, Email no limit, huge attachments—the best!"
That brings up a problem with mnemonics—you need to remember
them if they’re going to do any good. To this day I can’t keep the
“30 days hath September” one straight. After the first line I say
“April, May, and some month ending in –ember.” I’ve always felt
like a dolt about this, since it’s supposed to be simple, but since
seeing more than 30 variations of this mnemonic rhyme on Wikipedia —or
is it 31?—I don’t feel so bad. Though I do have to say I’m partial
to the one they claim is the Australian version:
Thirty days hath
April, June and no wonder,
All the rest have raspberry jam,
Except for Grandma who rides a bicycle.
Hey, it makes as much sense and helps
as much as my version, and is a lot more fun.
What we need to do is clear the old,
crusty, unneeded mnemonics from our brains and replace them with new
ones. You know, create some “new-monics” like “You Request Fries
Instead, Bubba?” as a good way to remember the phrase, “Your
Retirement Fund Is Bankrupt.” Or “OBAMA Great” for “Oh Boy
Aren’t Michelle’s Arms Great?” And how about “Block Useless
Democrats’ Guidelines Every Time” as a way to remember how to spell
“budget”? And here’s a handy way to keep your messaging lengths
Twitter 140, twenty
longer for text,
Email no limit, huge attachments—the best!
But what we probably need most is a
mnemonic to help us remember how to spell mnemonic. You know, like “n
before m except at the beginning of mnemonic.” Or something like that.
I think maybe I’ll get some dessert and work on that one a little
more. Hey, stop thinking about the esses!
©2009 Mad Dog
Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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Make up a mnemonic to remind yourself to read them.