Earliest Reference to "Ghoti"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Wed Dec 13 18:52:07 UTC 2006

On 12/13/06, Stephen Goranson <goranson at duke.edu> wrote:
> Quoting Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>:
> [....]
> >
> > There's another 1938 cite on Google Books, from Albert Galloway
> > Keller's _Brass Tacks_ (p. 16): "It is more than a quip when someone
> > offers 'ghoti' as the way to spell 'fish': 'gh'
> > as in 'rough,' 'o' as in 'women,' 'ti' as in 'attention.' This is only
> > in snippet view, so there's no way of getting more context, but it
> > seems to have the same unattributed status as the other cites from
> > 1937-38.
> > [....]
> So far, I see no attribution in the Keller book, now at hand. It's in a section
> titled on "'Talking like People'" and compares English, German and French. It
> has ti as in nation, as does the Garfieldian. What does the Christian Science
> Monitor has for ti--nation or attention? (it's not given in ads-l archives).
> Living Age March 1941 (via Proquest) cites Manchester Guardian on "Refugee
> Phoenetics," with "...ti as in ambition."

CSM has "ti" as in "nation" -- also note the reference to a
"foreigner" -- which might bring it in line with that later cite about
the "stage-Frenchmen" (i.e., it was intended to satirize the
difficulties of foreigners learning irrational English spelling).

        In Lighter Vein
        Christian Science Monitor, Aug 27, 1938, p. 17
        A foreigner who insisted that "fish" should be spelled
        "ghoti" explained it in this fashion: "Gh" is pronounced
        as in "rough," the "o" as in "women," and the "ti" as in
        "nation" -- so maybe he's right.

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list