ghoti = fish

Matthew Gordon gordonmj at MISSOURI.EDU
Tue Apr 22 22:11:35 UTC 2008


Here's the full quote:
"My son William has hit upon a new method of spelling Fish. As thus: -
G.h.o.t.i., Ghoti, fish. Nonsense! say you. By no means, say I. It is
perfectly vindicable orthography. You give it up? Well then, here is the
proof. Gh is f, as in tough, rough, enough; o is i as in women; and ti is
sh, as in mention, attention, &c. So that ghoti is fish." (p. 406)

This is from the Oct. 1874 issue of St. James's Magazine. The article is
written by S. R. Townshend Mayer and it's titled "Leigh Hunt and Charles
Ollier." The piece is a description of the relationship between the author,
Hunt, and his publisher, Ollier. What's intriguing is that the article is
supposed to be based on unpublished letters between the men from a period of
over 40 years. As it happens, the ghoti passage seems to be taken from an
1855 letter from Ollier, though this isn't totally clear from the magazine

-Matt Gordon

On 4/22/08 4:36 PM, "Baker, John" <JMB at STRADLEY.COM> wrote:

>         That sounds really early, conceivably even the origin.  Can you
> share the whole thing?
> John Baker
> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
> Of Matthew Gordon
> Sent: Tuesday, April 22, 2008 5:11 PM
> Subject: ghoti = fish
> I don't keep up with the antedating sport that many on this list
> participate in, so, please forgive me if this is not news. I checked the
> ADS-L archives about the "joke" of respelling 'fish' as <ghoti> and
> found posts tracing this back to the 1930s or so. It is popularly
> attributed to G. B. Shaw but the consensus seems to be that he didn't
> come up with it on his own.
> Anyway my university has a trial subscription to the British Periodicals
> database and for fun I searched on 'ghoti.' I came up with an article
> from an 1874 issue of St. James Magazine that recounts the story of
> ghoti. The quote begins "My son William has hit upon a new method of
> spelling Fish. As
> thus: - G.h.o.t.i., Ghoti, fish...." and continues on to explain the
> orthographic connections.
> I'm happy to provide further details if anyone is interested.
> -Matt Gordon
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