Friday, June 12, 2009

Nothing Fishy

Having stayed in Kolkata for about a couple of decades, I am asked by a lot friends/colleagues - 'why do Bengalis like fish (to the extent of being a fish outside water in case they don't get to eat fish) so much?' More often than not, it's the third question they ask me when i lunch with a new 'friend'.

BTW, a lot of bengalis (humorously) say that fish is vegetarian! A few people, (irrespective of their degree of Bong-connection) however, are not sure if it's vegetarian, non-vegetarian or semi-vegetarian! [see this].

Anyway, getting back to the question at hand: I could just give the 'new friends' the obvious/clichéd environmental/availability/historical reasons [I am not going to say that in detail here]. George Bernard Shaw gave me another reason for Bengalis' love towards fish. The reason being - the word, currently spelled as ef-eye-es-eych and pronounced as 'fish', can be spelled as 'ghoti'!

[As per Wiki] Ghoti is a constructed example used to illustrate irregularities in English spelling. It is a respelling of the word fish, and like fish is pronounced /ˈfɪʃ/. It has,
gh, pronounced [f] as in tough;
o, pronounced [ɪ] as in women; and
ti, pronounced [ʃ] as in nation.

[Again, quoting from Wiki], The Ghotis are the people of western Bengal, who have a culture, traditions, and cuisine distinct from their Bangal counterparts of Bengal.

However, a section of the society believes that the first reference to fish being spelled as jee-eych-oh-ti-eye (ghoti) was seen before Shaw [Link]

In any case, i have got yet another answer to the third question a 'new' friend generally asks - though it is just half an answer.

Looking for a way to spell 'fish' as Bee-ay-en-jee-ay-el to complete my answer.


Tejaswy June 13, 2009 at 12:27 AM  

I have heard of egg being a vegetarian but fish being vegetarian.. Awesomw

deicider June 14, 2009 at 3:35 AM  

Ok fish is definitely not vegeterian infact for bengali vegeterians garlic ginger onion beet carrot and moong dal(pulses) is also non veg along with fish and all sorts of meat.Beat that!
About the Ghoti part though I seriously doubt what kind of drunk stupor or slurpy tongue led to such a serious mispronunciation of the word fish.Seems like the wiki document quoted here lacks some information.I should investigate further.After all I am a bagh.Half ghoti half bangals i.e dad ghoti mom bangal or vice versa fondly call themselves baghs.I am a true Bengali through and thorugh and oh forgot to mention I dont like fish!
Analyze that!

Anonymous June 14, 2009 at 8:47 PM  

This is an good analysis of a guju vegetarian about fish. But the whole controversy of fish being veg or nonveg really doesnt matter for bengalis as long as they have it :). I belong to both parts of bengal dad being ghoti and mom being bangal. But I found both parts of family have a equal passion for fish. All the more personally I love fish.

Aritra Das June 14, 2009 at 10:10 PM  

Sorry Mr. Shaw, but I couldn't really digest the pronunciation of "ghoti" as "fish" :P

I dunno what problem ur frnds and colleagues have with a Bengali having fish... We never question why a Mumbaikar prefers Pav Bhaji or why a Delhi-ite prefers Kadi Chawal or even why a Tamil prefers Idli Dosa... this is purely based on habit - I hv seen many Bengalis brought up outside WB, with completely diff food habits...

One food 4 ur thought.... Acc to traditions, Ghotis prefer Prawn (which is not a fish) whereas Bangals prefer Hilsa (a true fish)... :)

Aritra Das June 14, 2009 at 11:12 PM  


Why "Bagh"? How abt "Bati".... :P

deicider June 14, 2009 at 11:57 PM  

Srry Aritra...........bagh is more cool bati is simply derogatory to me and i stress on to me part.

Aritra Das June 15, 2009 at 12:51 AM  

Hey hey, come on... now don't take it personally - I was just kidding... sorry abt that... I admit - bagh is more cool and u r a cool tigress :)

deicider June 15, 2009 at 1:05 AM  


alpesh June 17, 2009 at 2:04 AM  

Really informative..m really thankful to u as ur blog has made me come across one fact that was till today unknown to me..

keep writing such blogs.

abhi June 17, 2009 at 11:38 AM  

summary of the above blog:

ur new lunch friends asks a lot of questions. :D [full pun intended]

Soumen June 19, 2009 at 3:18 PM  

Dear Prashant,

Reading this entry I am quite sure that u are misdirected by GBS about FISH (aka GHOTI).

Please go through my new theory about Fish - "EVERYTHING FISHY".


This theory is intended for those who doesn't eat fish and dedicated to those who eat/love to eat fish. The french pronunciation of FISH is POISSION. As GBS was completely unaware of this pronunciation, so his research about the FISH(aka GHOTI) is incomplete and irrelavant. In reality, FISH(aka POISSION) is correlated to the Laplace's second order partial differential equation of POTENTIAL. Now regarding POTENTIAL, there is a misconception in ppls mind. Driven by few foolish scientists, ppl try to believe that this is some kind of electrical measurement. Actually, POTENTIAL is a virtue that is possesed by the FISH-eaters. With the accumulation and digestion of FISH in human body, the integration of POTENTIAL to the characteristics of a FISH-eaters takes place. And as a result the person acquires to potential to challenge anythings in the MUNDANE world. This is the new theory regarding FISH and invented by me. And believe me there is no connection between fish and ghoti.

Don't feel ashamed to know that u were driven by a mis-conception laid by GBS. Instead u may wonder to know that most of the world don't know about this thing (EVERYTHING FISHY) conciously, though this idea persists in our sub-concious mind. R u still in doubt?

Krishna June 22, 2009 at 10:41 AM  

Seems like good research being done by you on this article...

Ghoti pronounced as fish sounds funny :-)

Anonymous June 22, 2009 at 4:05 PM  

It simply says that you start thinking on whatever crap people asks or say.........common man there is lot more than researching on why Bengalis like FISH

Biswajit Biswas July 15, 2009 at 7:08 PM  

Prashant is your next bolg will be on why telegu's eat Dosa or why punjabi's like to have lots of "Makkhan" aka Butter? and after that you go to the origins of the word "Makkhan"?. so next time one of your new frnds ask about why bengali eat Fishes, ask why he/she like to have their taditional dishes.

MADHU RAO | (INDImag.COM) October 27, 2009 at 4:39 AM  

I can attest to the fact that many, not just Bengalis, seem to think fish/prawns are vegetarian. It's even the case in many a Chinese restaurants here in the US.

Funny article..

Swaprava Nath November 1, 2009 at 1:32 PM  

You can easily write a paper on this ... Nice one !

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