Why Worry if You Can’t Spell in English?

{PD}

“Ghoti”

- an alternate spelling of the word “fish,” usually attributed without evidence to George Bernard Shaw. Possibly thought up originally by William Ollier Jr.

How on earth can “ghoti” be an alternate spelling of the word “fish?” Well, if:

  • gh, is pronounced as /f/ as in tough /tʌf/;
  • o, is pronounced as /ɪ/ as in women /ˈwɪmɪn/; and
  • ti, is pronounced as /ʃ/ as in nation /ˈne͡ɪʃən/ (from Wikipedia)

Of course, as the New York Times pointed out, most English speakers would never pronounce “ghoti” that way. “Ghoti” likely originated in a Victorian parlor game where people stitched together new spellings of words from other words – nicely illustrating the complete irrationality of English spelling in the process. Doesn’t it sound like people had fun back then? Another fun result of this game was a possible 81,997,920 ways of spelling scissors (because, when you think about it, why would you spell “scissors” the way we do? What exactly is that “c” there for?)

So when you struggle over whether “embarrassment” has a double “r,” a double “s,” or BOTH a double “r” and a double “s,” don’t feel so bad. English spelling really doesn’t make sense, and smarter people than you have failed to figure out a system for it.

(PS: George Bernard Shaw was a strong advocate of spelling reform in English, which is probably why this quote is often attributed to him.)

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1 Comment

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One response to “Why Worry if You Can’t Spell in English?

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