ghoti, the W.J. Sidis version

Dennis R. Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Wed Dec 20 14:07:56 UTC 2006

Notice an implication of the older and traditional pronunciation of
"radish" as "reddish" in this account. Still around (and not a
Northern Cities Shift phenomenon).


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>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
>Subject:      ghoti, the W.J. Sidis version
>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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Dennis R. Preston
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