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 (//), using these sounds:
- gh, pronounced // as in enough // or tough //;
- o, pronounced // as in women //;
- ti, pronounced // as in nation // or motion //.
The key to the phenomenon is that the pronunciations of the constructed word's three parts are inconsistent with how they would ordinarily be pronounced in those placements. To illustrate: gh can only resemble f when following the letters ou or au at the end of certain morphemes ("tough", "cough", "laugh"), while ti would only resemble sh when followed by a vowel sound ("martian", "patient", "spatial"). The expected pronunciation in English would sound like "goatee" //.
In 1815, there were several examples of absurd spellings given in a book by Alexander J. Ellis, A Plea for Phonotypy and Phonography, which advocated spelling reform. However, ghoti was not among the examples, which were all relatively lengthy and thus harder to remember.
The first confirmed use of ghoti is in a letter dated 11 December 1855 from Charles Ollier to Leigh Hunt. On the third page of the letter, Ollier explains, "My son William has hit upon a new method of spelling Fish." Ollier then demonstrates the rationale, "So that ghoti is fish." The letter credits ghoti to William Ollier Jr., born 1824.
An early known published reference is an October 1874 article by S. R. Townshend Mayer in St. James's Magazine, which cites the letter.
Ghoti is often cited to support English spelling reform, and is often attributed to George Bernard Shaw, a supporter of this cause. However, the word does not appear in Shaw's writings, and a biography of Shaw attributes it instead to an anonymous spelling reformer. Similar constructed words exist that demonstrate English idiosyncrasies, but ghoti is the most widely recognized.
- In Finnegans Wake (published in 1939), James Joyce alludes to ghoti: "Gee each owe tea eye smells fish." ("G-H-O-T-I spells 'fish'.") (p. 299).
- In the artistic language Klingon,
ghotI'is the proper word for "fish".
- In "An Egg Grows in Gotham", a 1966 episode of the television series Batman, the villain Egghead uses "Ghoti Oeufs" as the name for his caviar business, and Batman explains the reference to Robin.
- Ghoti Hook is a 1990s Christian punk band.
- Ghoti has been used to test speech synthesizers. The Speech! allophone-based speech synthesizer software for the BBC Micro was tweaked to pronounce ghoti as fish. Examination of the code reveals the string GHOTI used to identify the special case.
- Zimmer, Ben (25 June 2010). "Ghoti". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
- Zimmer, Ben (23 April 2008). ""Ghoti" before Shaw". Language Log. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
- The original letter is housed in the British Library.
- Mayer, S. R. Townshend (October 1874). "Leigh Hunt and Charles Ollier". St. James's Magazine. p. 406.
- Holroyd, Michael (1994). Bernard Shaw: Volume III: 1918–1950: The Lure of Fantasy. Random House. ISBN 0517130351.
- Scobbie, Jim. "What is "ghoti"?". Archived from the original on 25 February 2019. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
- "Klingon Language Institute". Retrieved 23 May 2019.
- 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 23 May 2019.
- Kevelson, Morton (January 1986). "Speech Synthesizers for the Commodore Computers / Part II". Ahoy!. p. 32. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
- "Re: Spelling Bees". Retrieved 23 May 2019.
- How to pronounce "ghoti"
- Hou tu pranownse Inglish, an essay on grapheme-to-phoneme rules that discusses "ghoti"
- "What is ghoti?" by Jim Scobbie