Not I Before E, but Why Before How

We can dispose of the “i before e” rule rather easily. This article has more details than most will want to know but includes the advice that it is “a rule not worth being taught.” The comedian Brian Regan, on a Pandora PG Comedy channel, includes this rhyme in one of his sketches about grade school: “I before E, except after C, or when sounding like A, as in neighbor or weigh, and on weekends and holidays and all throughout May, and you’ll never be right, no matter what you say!” He’s not wrong. Apparently, someone has counted, and there are  923 exceptions to the “rule” that we all know (and only 40 adherents). You have probably seen on Facebook or mugs the meme: “i before e except after c and when your foreign neighbors Keith and Heidi seize their eight counterfeit heifer sleighs from feisty caffeinated weightlifters of average height in a heist. WEIRD.” Now you know.

Now on to the real purpose of this discussion: The importance of Why before How. As usual, the principle is not original. This example explains the concept in fundraising. This discussion says that Why? is the emotional motivation that leads to the active inspiration of How? This one is to do with teaching math. All have books for purchase, of course.

For the past several years, I’ve had a particular nemesis in the pump bottles common for shampoo, condition, body wash, hand soap, and lotion. As of last Saturday, six of these little horrors led me to do something concrete about discovering the solution. It’s not that I hadn’t tried. My assumption was that some weakness of hand was the concern. I’d tried pliers with no luck. I’d asked certain children for help. No success.

I turned then to that fount of wisdom for most things, YouTube. Wikipedia is helpful, and I’d just used it to recover my cursor after several attempts. Often, perhaps usually, YouTube allows us to see the process rather than just reading about it. The first example I came upon was this woman, sitting in her car, with a sort of zebra-patterned steering wheel cover. At almost six minutes, it’s far longer than one would usually care for. But I couldn’t look away. She uses the word “stupid” a lot (I count 6, excessive!) and seems distracted, as might be expected when recording in a car with an eccentric steering wheel cover.

Importantly, however, she does discuss the why for her subsequent how. She is pleased that she called a company rep for advice after not being able to figure it out herself, working in retail and trying to assist “seniors” struggling with arthritic hands or carpal tunnel sufferers. The “why” is not profound but has to do with shipping and storage. The old way of a quick reverse twist was too easy and when the pump dislodged, a mess resulted. (Technically, I don’t know if that’s what the rep said or if the woman intuited that.) Therefore, the lid is now manufactured so that the pump simply spins when turned. Our hack-meister shows us how to hold a tiny part of the lid with a rubber band so that it doesn’t spin with the pump.

None of my stuck pumps had a lid like that, but because I understood the principle, I suspected that there was another way to fix the problem. I opened the lid and held the stem at the top, then twisted it counterclockwise. It worked. They all worked! I joyfully opened six bottles that had not been usable except when the lid was removed, some of them in years, some just purchased. In this video (much shorter), a man uses this technique, with toilet paper as a gripper. (I used a jar lid gripper.) With slight ecstasy, I can report that the man also says the lid is a nemesis! Vindicated.

Extrapolating, I do support the principle of why before how regardless of the situation. If you have heard, or used, “Because I said so!” more than once, you may agree. Other examples abound.