ghoti = fish

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Thu Apr 24 04:13:05 UTC 2008

On Tue, Apr 22, 2008 at 6:11 PM, Matthew Gordon <gordonmj at> wrote:
> "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  supposed to be based on unpublished letters between the men from a period of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
>  text.

A librarian at the University of Iowa who manages the digitization of
the library's collection of Leigh Hunt correspondence was able to
pinpoint the date of the letter: December 11, 1855. See my Language
Log post for more information (including a scan of the passage from
the Mayer article, since Matthew was kind enough to send along the

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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