## Posts tagged ‘language’

### The Weird I Before E Rule

I’ve always hated the I before E except after C rule. My hatred is simple: a rule is a “prescribed direction for conduct,” and, as far as I’m concerned, it should be accurate very close to 100% of the time.

The Triangle Inequality? That’s a rule that always works.

The sum of the angles of a triangle? It’s 180°, 100% of the time.

Ceva’s Theorem? Completely worthless, to be sure, but also completely correct.

But the I before E rule? I wasn’t sure how often it was inaccurate, but it only took a few seconds to come up with myriad counterexamples:

- weird
- science
- neighbor
- rein
- pricier
- deficient
- eight

That’s the thing, right? Math rules always work. Else we wouldn’t call them rules. But grammarians, philosophers, artists — pretty much anyone with a liberal arts degree — will call anything a rule that works some of the time.

So with some help from MoreWords, I created the following Venn diagram:

Let me ‘splain. No, wait… that would take too long. Let me sum up.

There are 5,443 words that contain either EI or IE. Of those,

- 3,562 correctly contain IE not following C
- 62 correctly contain EI following C

That is, of the 5,443 words containing EI or IE, **1,591 words** violate the rule by having **EI without a C** in front of it, and **162 words** violate the rule by having **IE with a C** in front of it.

Which is to say, only 66.6% of the words that contain either EI or IE adhere to the rule *I before E except after C*.

Put another way, **the rule is total bullshit**.

These numbers are consistent with an analysis from Language Log, which looked at about 8.7 million words randomly pulled from a month of the NY Times. It was found that 174,716 words contained EI or IE, but only 114,070 words correctly followed the rule, which means the rule held about 65% of the time.

One of the readers of Language Log commented that the rule works with the following amendment:

When the sound is long E,

it’s I before E,

except after C.

I’ll call bullshit.

I didn’t even have to think to come up with a list of words for which that modified rule fails:

- seize
- leisure
- either
- neither
- protein

Speaking of rules…

Philosophy is a game with objectives and no rules.

Mathematics is a game with rules and no objectives.

— AnonymousMathematics is a game played according to certain simple rules with meaningless marks on paper.

— David Hilbert

### Specialized Language of Mathematics

The *High School Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics* says that materials aligned with CCSSM should emphasize mathematical reasoning by “explicitly attending to the specialized language of mathematics.”

I am greatly concerned by this, as there is much confusion about many of the most important words in mathematics.

Words like *dodecagon*…

…or *coordinate axes*…

…or *hypotenuse*…

…or *quartiles*…

…or *spheroid*…

The Common Core mathematics glossary contains 52 terms, yet none of the five listed above are on that list. I certainly hope the glossary committee will consider adding some of them.