George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was passionate about spelling reform and left a substantial legacy to this cause hoping a new phonetic alphabet would be adopted. Each letter of this “Shavian” alphabet, devised by Kingsley Read (1887-1975), represents a single sound, thus allowing English to be spelled exactly as pronounced. Although this alphabet never caught on, there are those today who use and promote it.
Shaw is credited with jokingly spelling “fish” as ghoti — that is, gh as in laugh, o as in women, and ti as in motion.
Similar nonsense is attributed to Oscar Wilde (1854-1920):
“If GH can stand for P as in Hiccough/If OUGH stands for O as in Dough/If PHTH stands for T as in PHTHISIS/ If NEIGH stands for A as in Neighbour/If TTE stands for T as in Gazette/If EAU stands for O as in Plateau/The right way
to spell POTATO should be GHOUGHPHTHEIGHTTEEAULT!”
Shaw and Wilde weren’t alone in making fun of English spelling. That famous English sense of humour has provoked a host of other spelling jokes, puns, and poems, such as:
• What did one sheep say to the other? “I love ewe.”
• Why did the antelope? Nobody gnu.
• “Know anything about Latin syntax?” “Don’t tell me they had to pay for their fun too.”
Several poems like the three following have
invaded the internet:
I said, “This horse, sir, will you shoe?” And soon the horse was shod.
I said, “This deed, sir, will you do?” And soon the deed was dod!
I said, “This stick, sir, will you break?” At once the stick he broke.
I said, “This coat, sir will you make?” And soon the coat he moke.
A boy who swims may say he swum, but milk is skimmed and seldom skum,
And nails you trim, they are not trum.
When words you speak; these words are spoken, but a nose is tweaked and can’t be twoken,
And what you seek is seldom soken.
If we forget, then we’ve forgotten, but things we wet are never wotten,
And houses let cannot be lotten.
The goods one sells are always sold, but fears dispelled are not dispold,
And what you smell is never smold.
When young, a top you often spun, but have you seen a grin e’er grun,
Or a potato nearly skun?
Dearest creature in creation,
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
It will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear.
So shall I! O hear my prayer ...
Finally: Which rhymes with “enough,”
Though, through, plough, cough, hough, or tough?
Hiccough has the sound of “cup.”
My advice is — give it up.
— G.H. Trenité.