Ghoti – a common English word

Obviously, the way to pronounce “gh” sounds like “f” — examples; rough, enough, tough.

Obviously, the way to pronounce “o” sounds like “i” — example: women.

Obviously, the way to pronounce “ti” sounds like “sh” — examples:  nation, emotion

Put them all together and you have — FISH.

Tracing the reasons why “ghoti” does not  spell “fish” would require quite a detailed investigation into historical changes in the English language, and the choice of phonemes in English.  Why does “enough” use the “f” sound, but “bought” does not?  For some reason or reasons, many centuries ago we rejected the Germanic “ch” sound, as in the word “knight.”  We preferred the softer sound of English.  All a linguist can do is to tell you that this happened, but none of us knows why.  Language often develops as a result of a popular song or political movement, or some other random historical quirk.

I sometimes ask my students what a “yellow submarine” is.  They all know it comes from a Beatles song, and have some sense that it is a symbol for the crazy place where we all cohabit, but there is no logic to it.  It just stuck for reasons which we will never be able to analyze.

That is what we mean by a “soft science,” when we refer to Linguistics, Sociology, Psychology, etc.  In soft sciences, absolute proof is often lacking.  This makes the soft sciences both more fascinating and more nerve-wracking.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *