Did you hear the one about...

Spelling (1)


English has one of the worst vocabularies to spell; and there are good reasons behind this which we'll write about later

But for now, here are a couple of examples:


How to spell fish

George Bernard Shaw is said to have written a London Times article when he was campaigning for spelling reform, giving the following example:

  • If gh is pronounced f as in enough
  • If o is pronounced i as in women
  • If th is pronounced sh as in motion
  • Then the spelling of fish should be ghoti

How to spell potato

Many people remember way back in 1992, when the then Vice-President Dan Quayle's image was unfairly destroyed by a simple spelling mistake. At the Luis Munoz Rivera School he 'helped' a 12-year old student spell the word potato. Although the student had already spelt the word correctly, Quayle added an "e" to the end of the word. Not that it matters one jot of course, there are much more important things for a vice-president to worry about; like himself and the president being voted out of office a few months later.

Sew, if you have difficulty spelling sum times, take hart - your not a loan!

Here's yet another alternative spelling of potato:

  • If gh is pronounced p as in hiccough
  • If ough is pronounced o as in dough
  • If phth is pronounced t as in phthisis
  • If eigh is pronounced a as in neighbour
  • If tte is pronounced t as in gazette
  • If eau is pronounced o as in beau
  • Then the spelling of potato should be ghoughphtheightteeau

English quirks index

... or was it the Los Angeles Times?

If anyone can provide documentary evidence that such an article actually appeared, we'd be interested to see it.

In the 1980s, Charles E Robinson, a professor of English at Delaware University, found a letter written in December 1855 by the English publisher Charles Ollier to his friend, an English essayist and poet, Leigh Hunt. The letter included: "My son William has hit upon a new method of spelling 'fish'...", followed by the above formula.

'Spelt' - British English
'Spelled' - American English

Having an international audience, this site tends to follow the more common British spelling.


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