Book Review: ‘i before e (except after c)’

April 2, 2009 Updated: April 2, 2009

MEMORY HELPERS: Judy Parkinson's compilation of easy-to-recall mnemonics make this a nice addition to any home library. (The Reader's Digest Association, Inc.)
MEMORY HELPERS: Judy Parkinson's compilation of easy-to-recall mnemonics make this a nice addition to any home library. (The Reader's Digest Association, Inc.)
Reference books come in many shapes and publishers. The Reader’s Digest has come out with a handy guide to remember common “stuff,” that author Judy Parkinson says helps us through life. “i before e (except after c)” covers just about any area of everyday life that a person needs to remember.

Whether young or old, remembering factoids can come in handy, when in conversation or when alone. Parkinson’s approach is the “pre-Google” use of mnemonics, “simple memory aids, which once learned, fixed information in the brain forever.”

The hardcover, paperback-size volume covers spelling, numbers, geography, time, history, and the human body, among other areas. Throughout each section, she intersperses quotes from literary icons such as E.B. White (“English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment, and education—sometimes it’s sheer luck, like getting across the street.”)

To help with number problems, some older readers may recall these counting rhymes we learned as children: “One, Two, buckle my shoe, Three, Four, knock at the door…”

Learning musical notes is made easy in a song from “The Sound of Music:” “Doe, a deer, a female deer …” I can almost hear Julie Andrews singing it.

Parkinson’s method for learning the bones in the human body seemed more cumbersome than the way I learned to pass a test in high school—“The hip bone’s connected to the leg bone …” For the bones of the leg (Hip, Femur, Patella, Tibia, Fibula, Tarsals, Metatarsals, Phalanges) the author provides this phrase for the first letter of each bone: Help Five Police To Find Ten Missing Prisoners.

Simple driving reminders are seen on highway signs and have their use: “Click it or Ticket” or “Cross at the Green, Not in Between.”

Remembering interest rates had a handy rhyme: “when rates are low, stocks will grow. When rates are high stocks will die.”

Simple household repairs even had a clever mnemonic. Using a screw becomes “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” or “right on, left off.”

On the downside, I found remembering a myriad of “catchy” sentences a bit exhausting. Wouldn’t it be just as easy to learn the topic? I don’t think learning the metric system would be as difficult as remembering Parkinson’s method: “The first letters stand for the metric prefixes and base unit: Kilo, Hecto, Deca, Meter (base), Deci, Centi, Milli.

The following phrases are meant to help to remember the correct order: King Henry Died Mightily Drinking Chocolate Milk … ” The phrase itself is a little silly, much less a way to remember a numerical system.

The book is, however, a valuable addition to any home library to grab whenever stumped on a simple formula, or word, or translation. According to Parkinson, “[mnemonics] can help remind you when to turn your clocks back and forward, as well as important anniversaries and that special someone’s birthday. Mnemonics could even save you from contacting poison ivy and may help you save a life.”

i before e (except after c) old-school ways to remember stuff by Judy Parkinson is published by The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.