Ghoti -- oops!

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Wed Dec 13 04:26:05 UTC 2006

> Shoulda noticed Larry's  post before spouting off. I do think Shaw used it
> even if he wasn't its inventor.

Many people have searched high and low in Shaw's works for "ghoti" and
have come up empty. Had it appeared in print, it would most likely
have showed up in _George Bernard Shaw on Language_ (New York:
Philosophical Library, 1963), edited by Abraham Tauber, an anthology
of items written by Shaw about language and language reform (including
excerpts from his will).  But the only mention of it is in Tauber's
introduction (p. xvii):

"Shaw is frequently associated with his innovation of the story of a
'fish' -- spelled 'ghoti' -- the 'gh' of laugh, the 'o' of women, and
the 'ti' of nation -- the transliteration 'ghoti' representing the
sounds of the word 'fish,' as well as the irrational and inconsistent
nature of English spelling."

As I mentioned in my other post, we do have a firm attribution to
Daniel Jones from 1943, and he may have been confused in the popular
imagination (by Mario Pei and others) with Shaw.


The American Dialect Society -

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