From Academic Kids

Ghoti is an imaginary word used to illustrate irregularities in English spelling. It is pronounced fish: "gh" () as in laugh (); "o" () as in women (); "ti" () as in nation ().

The creation of the word is frequently attributed to George Bernard Shaw, but it is unlikely to have originated with him.

Although ghoti is often cited in the cause of English spelling reform, this ignores the importance of etymology and the way words usually enter the English language.

The phoneme "gh" representing the sound /f/ is never found at the beginning of a word and "ti" representing /sh/ is never found at the end of a word. The pronunciation of the word women is the only word in English where "o" represents the sound /i/ and this is partly due to the great vowel shift.

Another interpretation of the pronunciation of ghoti which has been put forward is "": "gh" as in night; "o" as in people; "t" as in ballet; "i" as in business.

It is possible to contrive other similarly amusing examples. Another one, origin uncertain, is:

If gh is pronounced P in Hiccough...
If ough is pronounced O in Dough...
If phth is pronounced T in Phthisis...
If eigh is pronounced A in Neighbour...
If tte is pronounced T in Gazette...
If eau is pronounced O in Plateau...
...then it should be possible to spell potato as ghoughphtheightteeau.

Note, however, that not all people use "hiccough" (it may also be spelled "hiccup") or pronounce the "cough" like "cup". In addition, most people pronounce the <phth> in phthisis like "fth".

It has been argued that these examples in fact illustrate a lack of irregularity in English spelling — ghoughphtheightteeau would be a ridiculous way to spell potato, and in English, potato isn't spelled even close to that way. Because of this, it is claimed that the rules of English spelling, which prohibit the formation of words like ghoti, are in fact reasonably sensible.

It has also been noted that many of the irregularities that do exist in English spelling serve to preserve the word's history and etymology. (For example, the word "electrician", in which the ci is pronounced sh, retains a linkage to its root "electricity" which would be lost if the word were spelled "electrishun".)

The sh sound itself is a good example of spelling irregularity. In Imagery and text: A dual coding theory of reading and writing (Lawrence Erlbaum, 2001), Mark Sadoski lists eleven ways of spelling /sh/: shirt, sugar, chute, action, issue, ocean, conscious, mansion, schwa, anxious, and special.

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