Harry Mount

Alphabet Soup

Spell it out: the singular story of English spelling

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Spelling obsessives will be familiar with the nineteenth-century joke suggesting that ‘fish’ should really be spelt ‘ghoti’: the ‘gh’ is pronounced ‘f’, as in ‘cough’; the ‘o’ is pronounced ‘i’, as in ‘women’; the ‘ti’ is pronounced ‘sh’, as in ‘nation’. Entertaining as the joke is, it is essentially cobblers, as David Crystal explains in this masterly book. You’d never use ‘ti’ to sound like ‘sh’ at the end of a word; and ‘gh’ is never pronounced ‘f’ at the beginning of one.

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