Ghoti -- oops!

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Dec 13 05:06:01 UTC 2006

At 11:26 PM -0500 12/12/06, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
>>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.
Let's see..."J" as in "Beijing" [hyperforeignism-style], "o" as in
"dog", "n" as in "column", "e" as in "make", "s" as in "hors
d'oeuvres"*--I can see why Pei might have thought Jones was Shaw.


*But not when pronounced as a student reports it is in "backwoods
Nebraska" according to a Coloradan friend of his, viz. "whore's

The American Dialect Society -

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