"fish" (was Re: "moist")

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Mon Nov 7 15:35:33 UTC 2011

On Nov 6, 2011, at 11:01 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:
> On Sun, Nov 6, 2011 at 9:01 AM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu> wrote:
>> Pejoratively, women are "fish"
> As are newcomers to prison, whether male or female. as more likely to
> become victims victims of intrasexual prison rape than
> more-experienced inmates.

as others have pointed out, there are two separate threads of uses here.

one thread is _fish_ 'person' (as OED2 has it), seen in "queer fish" (1751), "odd fish" (compare _duck_ in similar expressions), "poor fish" (from OED2), "big fish", "little fish", "cool fish", "cold fish" and more (from Green's Dictionary).  OED2 has "fresh fish" for 'newcomer' from 1871 (in a prison context).

Green has _fish_ 'an individual, usu. male and often disliked' from 1860, qualified by descriptive adjectives like _cool_, _strange_, etc. from 1857.  _fish_ (presumably for "fresh fish") 'novice' is in Green first as  '(US) any form of novice or fool, esp. a gullible innocent' (with British cites from 1592 depending on the figure of drawing fish to bait); then '(US campus) a freshman' from 1898; and '(Can./US prison) a new inmate' from 1912.  Green also has "new fish" 'a new inmate' from 1912, and earlier "fresh fish" 'a new inmate in a prison' from 1859.

Green has the sexual thread beginning with the sense 'the vagina' (from 1546), presumably from the odor; on to the metonymical 'a woman' (from 1595 -- Shakespeare); the US gay usage 'a heterosexual woman, sometimes derog.' (from 1923); the unsurprising development from 'woman' to 'prostitute, promiscuous woman' (from 1939); and from 'woman' to 'effeminate male homosexual' (also unsurprising), in US gay usage from 1932.  (the sexual senses don't seem to be in OED2.)

Green has one cite for "fresh fish" 'a new young prostitute' (a.1940), which combines the two threads.


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