eolotthowghrhoighuay and ghoti

The word ‘eolotthowghrhoighuay’ was devised by Alexander Ellis in 1845 to demonstrate the eccentric nature of English spelling. It’s supposed to spell ‘orthography’, and uses the eo from George, the ol from Colonel, the tth from Matthew, the ow from knowledge, the gh from ghost, the rh from rheumatic, the oi from Beauvoir, the gh from laugh, and the uay from quay.

Ghoti is a better-known example which is apparently spells ‘fish’, with the gh from tough, the o from women and the ti from nation. According to Wikipedia, it first appeared in print in 1874 and is credited to Willian Ollier, who used it in a letter in 1855, though it’s usually attributed George Bernard Shaw. Ghoti is also the word for fish in Klingon.

The trouble with both these words is that the letters or combinations of letters are not pronounced in these particularly ways when you take them from their normal positions. gh, for example, rarely appears at the beginnings of words, except in words like ghost.

You could spell fish ‘phoche’ (photo women quiche), according to this site.

This entry was posted in English, Language.

4 Responses to eolotthowghrhoighuay and ghoti

  1. Abbie says:

    That’s one of those things that’s “neat” until you learn the basics of orthography and then you just go “uh… so?” I’d guess there are two main causes:

    1- A precise English orthography using the 26 Latin letters is theoretically possible (using diacritics or digraphs), but English spelling evolved over a long period of time, and expecting universal standardization to have spontaneously happened is silly.
    2. The large number of loanwords that come from languages that also used the Latin alphabet, but with a different orthographies. (And for loanwords from other languages, the different transliteration practices.)

    I’m of the opinion that a bit of ambiguity in orthography is a good thing. As long as it points you to the right word, eh?

  2. CJS says:

    The legacy of sound shifts adds to the confusion in English spelling. Our spelling often represents earlier pronunciations.

    Then there’s the random silliness in the system, such as the silent “s” in “island” due to a false etymology.

  3. TJ says:

    Well, as it is said, it is part of the history of the language itself and its development. Changing the system completely to fit the spoken word might make other ambiguities. Nevertheless, vowels in English are spelled differently in different regions. “By” for example: “bey” (irish), “baey” (scot), “bay” (regular I’d say). The Irish accent also tend to change every “i” into “ay” or “oy” like in “oyrish” (irish).

    We have a proverb here: hold your insane man, or you will get an insaner one. So, it might be better that way without any change since people are learning that in schools nowadays. Yet, on the internet all these rules of writing are broken in chatting over the net though; A tendency for abbreviations rules over.

  4. Sarah says:

    Another example- gheaughteighptough spells potato.
    GH as in hiccough
    EAU as in beau
    GHT as in naught
    EIGH as in neigh
    PT as in pterodactyl
    OUGH as in though

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