Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Fri Dec 22 17:43:36 UTC 2006

Your high-school was probaably telling the truth, though his assistant
probably meant it as a joke. For me, it was entirely serious.

When I was reading over my high-school chemistry final, I was shocked
to find therein two words that I had neither seen nor heard before:
"anion" [Anj at n] and "cation" [keiSn]. (Damn! I knew I should have
studied harder!) Fortunately for me, before time ran out, I realized
that these were the words whose spellings I had internalized as
"an-ion" and "cat-ion."

Since that time - May, 1954 - I have never ceased to wonder why I am,
apparently, the only person ever faked out by this.


On 12/21/06, James A. Landau <JJJRLandau at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "James A. Landau" <JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM>
> Subject:      Re: ghoti
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I would like to point out that "ghoti = fish" is two-thirds correct and one-third unfair.  Yes, "gh" for /f/ in "laugh", "cough" etc. is, well, enuff is enuff, and "o" as /I/ in "women" is gender-neutral chauvinist pork.
> However, "ti" for /sh/ in any -tion word is quite acceptable.
> Why?  Because it is consistent and predictable.  Anybody reading English text knows that the combination "tion" is pronounced /sh at n/ (or in some cases, in words such as "convention", as /tsh at n/).  This is as solid and unvarying a rule as that "kn" at the beginning of a word is pronounced /n/.  The only exception I can think of is a technical term from chemistry "cation", pronounced /'kat eye @n/ or /'kat eye ahn/.  (My high-school chemistry teacher claimed that one of his lab assistants called cations /'kei sh at ns/ and anions /'an y at ns/.)
> Actually /sh at n/ for "tion" is a subset of a more general rule in English, that when followed by certain sounds (sorry, I'm a total amateur, I can't give you a list) "t" is pronounced /tsh/ and "d" is /dzh/, e.g. "did you try" is pronounced either /dId yoo tshrai/ or /dIdzh @ tshrai/.  Similarly, "Jeet?  No, Jew?"  This phonetic process has been mentioned quite a few times on ADS-L since I joined it but has not, to the best of my recollection, been discussed in detail.  Anyone interested in explaining it in detail?
> A man from Toronto (Anglophone mother, Francophone father) told me that a lot of people in Toronto pronounce the name of the city as /tshrahn oh/, so much so that some people have trouble looking up things in the phone book because they think the spelling is "Tronto" or "Trono".
> I once saw a similar gag to "ghoti", which I cannot recall except that it had three phonemes, one of which was /t/ spelled "phth" as in "phthisic".  Does anyone know it?
> Sorry for the mixture of IPA and vulgar ("Falsespel"?) but I hope I got my meaning "thru".
>    - Jim Landau
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