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Ghoti is a creative respelling of the word fish, used to illustrate irregularities in English spelling and pronunciation.


The word is intended to be pronounced in the same way (/fɪʃ/), using these sounds:

The key to the phenomenon is that the pronunciations of the constructed word's three parts are inconsistent with how they would be pronounced in those placements. To illustrate: gh can only resemble f when following the letters ou / au at the end of certain morphemes ("cough", "laugh"), while ti can only resemble sh when followed by the letters -on / -al / -an ("station", "spatial", "martian"), etc. The expected pronunciation in English would sound like "goaty" /ˈɡti/.[1]


The first confirmed use of the word is in a letter from Charles Ollier to Leigh Hunt. On the third page of that letter, dated 11 December 1855, Ollier explains, "My Son William has hit upon a new method of spelling 'Fish'." Ollier then demonstrates that "Ghoti is Fish."[2]

An early known published reference dates to 1874, citing the above letter. The letter credits ghoti to William Ollier Jr. (born 1824).[3] Ghoti is often cited to support English spelling reform, and is often attributed to George Bernard Shaw,[4] a supporter of this cause. However, the word does not appear in Shaw's writings,[3] and a biography of Shaw attributes it instead to an anonymous spelling reformer.[5] Similar constructed words exist that demonstrate English idiosyncrasies,[1] but ghoti is the most widely recognized.

Notable usage[edit]

  • In Finnegans Wake, James Joyce alludes to ghoti: "Gee each owe tea eye smells fish." (p. 299)
  • In the constructed language Klingon, ghotI' is the proper word for "fish".[6]
  • In the episode of Batman "An Egg Grows in Gotham", Egghead uses "Ghoti Œufs" as the name for his caviar business, and Batman explains the reference to Robin.[7]
  • Ghoti Hook is a 1990s Christian punk band.
  • Ghoti is used to test speech synthesizers.[8] The Speech! allophone-based speech synthesiser software for the BBC Micro was tweaked to pronounce ghoti as fish.[9] Examination of the code reveals the string GHOTI used to identify the special case.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Benjamin Zimmer. "Ghoti". The New York Times.
  2. ^ The original letter is housed in the British Library.
  3. ^ a b Benjamin Zimmer. "Ghoti before Shaw". Language Log. Cites S. R. Townshend Mayer, “Leigh Hunt and Charles Ollier”, St. James’s Magazine, October 1874, page 406 (itself citing an 1855 letter from Ollier to Hunt).
  4. ^ Holroyd, Michael, Bernard Shaw: Volume III: 1918–1950: The Lure of Fantasy, Random House, 1994, ISBN 0-517-13035-1
  5. ^ See Jim Scobbie's article at Archived 25 February 2001 at the Wayback Machine., citing Holroyd, page 501
  6. ^ Klingon Language Institute
  7. ^ Teleplay by Stanley Ralph Ross, Story by Ed Self (19 October 1966). "An Egg Grows in Gotham". Batman. Season 2. Episode 13. Event occurs at 13 minutes. ABC. Retrieved 27 March 2011.
  8. ^ Kevelson, Morton (January 1986). "Speech Synthesizers for the Commodore Computers / Part II". Ahoy!. p. 32. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
  9. ^ "Re: Spelling Bees" Discussion of speech synthesis programs

External links[edit]