Silly Questions: I before E except after K. See?

WHY is it 'i' before 'e' except after 'c'? Readers offer weird and weighty scientific explanations. 'The rule,' writes Keith Knight, 'was part of the vindictive measures against the Scots after the '45 Rebellion of Bonnie Prince Charlie. As well as banning tartans and bagpipes (a good thing), introduction of the spelling rule was a psychological weapon against anyone named Keith.' Mr Knight's own paranoia and identity crisis have been traced back to problems in spelling his name. He appeals to all parents to consider the consequences of their actions when naming offspring.

Stuart Cockerill traces it further back, from ancient Sumerian to Egypt, where hieroglyphs followed the rule: 'Scarab foraging on unidentified carcass before Phoenix with scarab in beak, except after man with shotgun.'

Christopher Bamford says:'This is a dialect reminiscence of the wedding ceremony, in which the husband addresses his wife, proclaiming his right to walk in front of her on every occasion except on leaving the church.'

Why do men have their money ready in supermarkets when women don't? Two theories predominate. The first, offered by male correspondents, maintains that men are more efficient than women; the second, proclaimed generally by females, is that you get out of the shop more quickly, and cause less delay to others, if you keep both hands free to pack the goods before paying.

Richard Crowe further comments: 'A woman's subconscious is reluctant to spend the fruits of the toil of her hard-working husband and provider, who sweats all day over computer or machine tool to supply the meagre offerings that are her housekeeping money.'

Len Clarke says it's because 'the poor, innocent creatures think that all men are still gentlemen, and if they appear helpless enough, the nearest chap in the queue will offer to pay the bill for them'. Chris Bray points out: 'Most cash-desk people are girls. Having one's money ready is a primitive courtship ritual.'

Which brings us to backward planning (as opposed to forward planning). Ms J Darling 'looks forward with hindsight to an impressive history of regression'. She will reveal her secrets at a seminar last March, entitled 'One Step Forward, Two Steps Back'. Fees payable in arrears.

Even more lucidly, Jane Carpanini says: 'Backward planning is what happens tomorrow when you've allowed your front- log of work to get out of hand.'

Next week: cars and condoms. Meanwhile, try the following: Why do they always talk about a Cabinet re-shuffle? When was the original shuffle? (C W Morton). Why is it a pig's breakfast and a dog's dinner, but no animal seems to have lunch? (Richard G Hunt). Why don't you ever see baby pigeons? (Craig Moore). Why do some people use their middle initials? (James T Kirk).

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