Earliest Reference to "Ghoti"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Wed Dec 13 23:09:08 UTC 2006

Joyce began work on _Finnegans_ in 1923.  The "footnotes" accompanied the original text of 1939, making it possible that Joyce heard the "ghoti" story in 1937 or '38 when it was popularized.

  In this country, that is.  I take it that British and Irish papers are not yet searchable.


Towse <my.cache at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
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Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Towse
Subject: Re: Earliest Reference to "Ghoti"

On 12/13/06, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
> On 12/13/06, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
> >
> > 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.
> Further evidence that it was originally foreigner humor:
> Oakland Tribune, May 11, 1938, p. 28/3
> A visitor from Eastern Europe has been making merry
> with English spelling. One of his suggestions is that
> "fish" ought to be spelled "ghoti." He argues that the
> "gh" is pronounced as in "rough," the o" as in "women,"
> and the "ti" as in "nation." So obviously "ghoti" spells
> "fish." --Exchange.

Lest we forget. Not an antedating, but a reference that "ghoti" was
known prior to 1939, well-enough known to warrant a footnote in
Finnegan's Wake, Episode 10. Joyce worked how many years on Finnegan's

When did he write the footnote?

[footnote 3] "Pure chingchong idiotism with any way words all in one
soluble. Gee each owe tea eye smells fish. That's U."


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