Using two letters (PH) to create the F sound seems a bit ridiculous to me. Where did it come from? It seems that the Romans are to blame. The Greek F sound was slightly different from the Roman sound, so when the Roman scribes translated the Greek letter phi, they weren’t too sure just what to do with it. So they compromised and used two letters instead of one. At least that is what I can work out from my studies.
But no matter who is to blame, why are we still using PH? Strangely enough, up to the 15th century, English scribes preferred the letter F, and most of our older words are spelled with an F. During the Renaissance, however, many Greek words sneaked into English, either directly or through French, and the purists of that time insisted that the PH should be used. It was pure snobbery with more than a touch of disdain for the common language spoken by the common people.
Since then, it has always been “correct” and “scholarly” to use the PH for the F sound instead of a more logical F when translating Greek or Latin words or creating new words based on Greek or Latin roots. This thinking was reinforced by the fact that French also uses the PH, and since the days of William the Conqueror (who came from northern France), the English upper class and academics have always loved to copy the French.
Interestingly, the other Romance languages (Spanish, Italian, etc.) do not use the PH, nor do the Scandinavians. The Germans only use it with foreign words and the eastern Europeans very rarely use it. So who does? Only the English and the French.
Perhaps it is time to get back to basic English and drop the PH. Let the French continue to use it if it keeps them happy, but we should no longer be burdened with such a nuisance. That’s my Filosofy.