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The Strangest Way to Spell Fish: “Ghoti”

ftd-ghoti

We bet you’ve never spelled the word “fish” like this before.

How would you pronounce the word Ghoti?

If you said “goaty” then most linguists would agree. However, in the 19th Century this ‘word’ was touted as an example of the necessity of an English-language spelling reform.

Said reformers claimed the word would be pronounced as “fish” due to the following:

  • The ‘gh’ would make the sound of ‘f’ as in “tough”
  • The ‘o’ would make the sound of ‘i’ as in “women”
  • The ‘ti’ would make the sound of ‘sh’ as in “station”

The idea was to point out the inconsistency in letter pronunciation that varied from word to word, with one example being the difference in sound between “tough” and “though.”

Public Domain - Fish or Ghoti
Pungent Chaetodon – John White

The reform movement had some prior success via Noah Webster and an essay in 1806. The written work was on the oddities of spelling in English and was featured in his first dictionary. They successfully simplified the spelling of such words as “color” from their originals (“colour”) and, as a result, this is how we spell them today.

Often wrongly attributed to a major player in the reform movement, George Bernard Shaw, the original inventor of “Ghoti” remains unknown. However, the movement carried on into the 20th Century with American players such as Andrew Carnegie and outdoors hero Theodore Roosevelt taking the reins.

As mentioned above, linguists generally claim the word should be pronounced how it looks (“goaty”) due to the letters being restricted to particular sounds. This is a result of their placement in the word. For instance, technically ‘gh’ can not make an ‘f’ sound at the beginning of a syllable.

However, given these are rules not explicitly known by most people, these facts don’t hurt the case that spelling in the English language can sometimes be confusing and counter-intuitive.

Impress your angler buddies with this random, but hopefully interesting factoid; maybe you’ll even win a bet.

Feeling strange? Check out these other bizarre bits on fish.

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The Strangest Way to Spell Fish: “Ghoti”