ghoti spoken by a stage-Frenchman?

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Wed Dec 13 16:19:01 UTC 2006

I don't know who first wrote ghoti for fish, but, possibly, here's a clue
towards finding the attribution [italics not indicated]:

"It is not my concern to-day to discuss the pros and cons of the
schemes of the
Society for Simplified Spelling. The stage-Frenchman is said to have proposed
as the spelling of the word fish the letters g h o t i: gh as in laugh,
o as in
women and ti as in nation. But though such a farcical reductio ad absurdum has
its point [....]"

C. L. Wrenn, "The Value of Spelling as Evidence," Transactions of the
Philological Society (London, 1943) page 39 (of 14-39). Though this is not as
early as some other citations of ghoti/fish, this paper was read to the
15 May 1943, which is earlier than the 2 Nov 1943 Times report on a lecture by
Daniel Jones on "Reform of English Spelling." It may be remarkable for its
attribution claim.

Plausibly, Jones got it from Wrenn, or Wrenn's source.

Wrenn's source would appear to be a play (a farce or including farce?). If so,
what play or movie? Any stage-Frenchmen come to mind? If it came from a play,
that's another possible reason it was mixed up with Shaw, and would provide a
source for the popular press.

Stephen Goranson

The American Dialect Society -

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