What is "ghoti"?

by Jim Scobbie
     [This is a fast-access FAQ excerpt.]
It's an alternative spelling of "chestnut". :-)  O.K., it's
"fish", re-spelled by a Victorian spelling-reform advocate to
demonstrate the inconsistency of English spelling:  "gh" as in
"cough", "o" as in "women", "ti" as in "nation".
   "Ghoti" is popularly attributed to George Bernard Shaw.  But
Michael Holroyd, in Bernard Shaw: Volume III: 1918-1950: The Lure
of Fantasy (Chatto & Windus, 1991), p. 501, writes that Shaw "knew
that people, 'being incorrigibly lazy, just laugh at spelling
reformers as silly cranks'.  So he attempted to reverse this
prejudice and exhibit a phonetic alphabet as native good sense
[...].  But when an enthusiastic convert suggested that 'ghoti'
would be a reasonable way to spell 'fish' under the old system
[...], the subject seemed about to be engulfed in the ridicule from
which Shaw was determined to save it."  We have not been able to
trace the name of the "enthusiastic convert".  Bill Bedford
(billb@mousa.demon.co.uk) writes:  "I seem to remember a film/TV
clip of Shaw himself referring to this - but don't ask for chapter
and verse."
   It has also been suggested that "ghoti" could be a spelling
of "huge":  "h" having its usual value, [h]; "g" making [j], the
sound of "y" in yes, after the *following* consonant as in
"lasagne"; "o" = [u] as in "move", "t" = [d] as in "Taoism", and
"i" = [Z] as in one pronunciation of "soldier".
   In the same vein is "ghoughpteighbteau":
P    hiccough
O    though
T    ptomaine
A    neigh
T    debt
O    bureau
   Supposedly, this is an example of how awful English spelling is,
and why it ought to be reformed.  In fact, it argues that English
spelling is kind and considerate, and easy.  Why?  Because "potato"
*isn't* spelled "ghoughpteighbteau".  It's spelled "potato"!  O.K,
O.K., "neigh" isn't spelt "ne", and we can get into all the old
arguments, but these really fun examples overstate the case and
strike those of us opposed to spelling reform as self-defeating.