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 "goaty" //, not "fish".
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.
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 one of 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). On p. 51, that fishabed ghoatstory may also allude to ghoti.
- 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.
- In the Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game, there is a fish-type card called "Ghoti of the Deep Beyond".
- 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. American Broadcasting Company. Retrieved 23 May 2019.[dead YouTube link]
- Kevelson, Morton (January 1986). "Speech Synthesizers for the Commodore Computers / Part II". Ahoy!. p. 32. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
- "Re: Spelling Bees". Archived from the original on 20 January 2013. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
- @YuGiOh_TCG (20 June 2022). "The Power of the Elements Premiere! Event is coming up July 30-31! You can be entered into a drawing to win exclusive prizes, like this Ultra Rare copy of Ghoti of the Deep Beyond (while supplies last)!" (Tweet) – via Twitter.