ghoti, the W.J. Sidis version

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Wed Dec 20 13:32:17 UTC 2006

William James Sidis (1898-1944) was a child prodigy who evidently wrote
publications under pseudonyms, and he reportedly would told a
ghoti/fish story.
The following quote also includes a "stage-Frenchman" dialog, since we
have the
1943 claim by C.L. Wrenn that ghoti was from such a speaker:

Billy felt that the elaborate learning of vocabularies and grammars often left
the language student unable to figure things out for himself. He cited the
instance of the American in Paris who wanted to order horseradish with his
dinner, but did not know how to ask for it. "I know the French for "horse' is
'cheval,' he said, and 'red' I suppose is ?rouge,' and if I only knew the
French for ?ish' I could ask for some."

    However, grammar has its irregularities, and one cannot be too
though it may not seem logical. Billy used to tell about the
conversation of the
Englishman with the logically minded Frenchman.

    Frenchman: "Ah, you climb the Matterhorn! That is a foot to be proud of.

    Englishman: "Pardon me, sir, you mean "feat."

    Frenchman: "So you climb it more than once, eh?"

    When foreigners tried to pronounce English Billy's sympathy was with them,
for few languages can rival English in inconsistencies, but he thought the man
became too easily discouraged who gave up English lessons when he saw the news

    Once, for dinner, we had a new word. It was not an East Indian dinner, even
though the word might seem to resemble Hindustani. The word was "ghoti,"
pronounced" fish."

    The "gh" is from the pronounciation of "laugh,"--and is "f."

    The "o" is from the pronunciation of "women"--and is "i."

    The "ti" is from the pronounciation of "temptation" --and is "sh."

    Thus "ghoti" is "fish."


Stephen Goranson

The American Dialect Society -

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