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My teacher has a sign in his room that says:

The English Language is a Challenge: This is why "Fish" can be spelled "Pheti"!

Is this true or is just to confuse students?

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    It's a very old joke, mocking the irregularity of English spelling. The version I know spells fish as {ghoti}: {gh} as in {enough}, {o} as in {women} and {ti} as in {nation}. Another version says {ghoti} is pronounced // (that is, entirely silent): {gh} as in {through}, {o} as in {people}, {t} as in {ballet} and {i} as in {business}. Aug 4, 2013 at 1:57
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    @StoneyB Ha! I'd heard fish = ghoti but not the 'silent ghoti' version. That's hilarious. Also, that looks like the answer to me. :)
    – WendiKidd
    Aug 4, 2013 at 2:05
  • I think this is Off Topic General Reference. I'm sure OP doesn't really believe the average Anglophone would recognise the word pheti as simply another way of spelling fish. And if he doubts, let him look it up in a dictionary. Aug 4, 2013 at 2:51
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    If you see it on a teacher's wall, why wouldn't you want to know why?
    – BobRodes
    Aug 5, 2013 at 4:26
  • english.stackexchange.com/q/47590/16833
    – Em1
    Aug 6, 2013 at 13:58

2 Answers 2

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StoneyB is absolutely correct in that Pheti is a joke, a play on the idiosyncrasies of the English spelling and pronunciation but it doesn't end there. In fact, it should arouse a phonic and phonemic awareness in the reader or student reading that word. As it appears to have done so with you.

In order to pronounce this word as "fish" /fɪʃ/, you need be familiar with some of the so-called conventional spelling guidelines.

  • ph is often pronounced as /f/. For example; photos; photocopier; elephant /ˈelɪfənt/.

  • e is sometimes pronounced as /ɪ/. For example; England, women /ˈwɪmɪn/. N.B. See how the letter o is pronounced in the same way!

  • ti is sometimes pronounced as /ʃ/. For example; inflation /ɪnˈfleɪʃən/; station /ˈsteɪʃən/.

Note that in all the examples I said "is sometimes pronounced" because as nearly everyone knows by now, there are no fixed rules in English spelling or pronunciation.

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    Although, this means that pheti can be pronounced fish. I don't see how it means fish can be spelled pheti, as spelling rules and pronunciation are something different. I know, it's supposed to be a joke.
    – skymningen
    Aug 7, 2013 at 5:58
  • I should have clarified, and confirmed that it is highly unlikely that anyone will propose that pheti is the speling for "fish". Although, now come to think of it phish could be seen as an alternative spelling... :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 7, 2013 at 6:03
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Whilst it is a joke nowadays, it’s because before Dr Johnson wrote the dictionary, there wasn’t any correct way of spelling something as there weren’t any rules to our spelling, hence why our phonetics don’t tend to make much sense. For example if you look through Shakespeare’s original scripts you’ll find that he spells his own name in different ways as well as words. So whilst ‘ghoti’ and ‘pheti’ are jokes, in a time before the dictionary was established, these two spellings would be accepted as one of the numerous spellings for fish.

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