"fish" (was Re: "moist")

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Nov 8 13:05:50 UTC 2011

"Garlic-eater" isn't really parallel because the garlic odor is
secondary to the foreign-food notion (cf. "frog-eater" and

But even if odor is paramount, the alleged metaphor behind the
relevant sense of "fish" is far more oblique (even cryptic) than the
simple reductionism of "garlic-eater" (who in fact eat garlic).

It's the pat neo-Freudian cleverness and of the alleged "fish"
derivation that makes me suspicious. (ISTR an article - or a remark -
many years ago that claimed it proved the sick misogyny of gay men -
and not just the ones who used the word "fish." Was the etymologist
innocently projecting his own misogyny and homophobia?)

Not that I'm saying the derivation is impossible. But that level of
indirection would be extraordinary.

An alternative (or perhaps complementary) derivation would be from
"fresh fish" 'innocent newcomer,' applied (presumably) to new brothel
inmates; hence "fish" 'prostitute' (available for sale at a "fish
market"); hence (perhaps) 'female prostitute' from the point of view
of a male prostitute; hence 'heterosexual woman' (in homosexual use).


On Tue, Nov 8, 2011 at 3:45 AM, Baker, John <JBAKER at stradley.com> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Baker, John" <JBAKER at STRADLEY.COM>
> Subject:      Re: "fish" (was Re: "moist")
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> There is also chapter 7, Catching the Fish, of Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities.  The fish is the individual who is brought the bill when everyone else is away from the table.  This is a standard practice of a group of British expatriates, with the collusion of the bar owner.
> John Baker
> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Wilson Gray
> Sent: Tuesday, November 08, 2011 2:15 AM
> Subject: Re: "fish" (was Re: "moist")
> On Mon, Nov 7, 2011 at 4:59 PM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com> wrote:
>> "a foolish or inexperienced person"
> This was the common meaning of "fish" as a G.I. slang term, back in
> the day when I was in The War, fifty years ago. It was used especially
> of those newly-arrived from The World - where even cheerleaders still
> wore knee-lehgth skirts - who foolishly thought that B-girls could be
> seduced, if you bought them enough wine, pernod, or "piccolos," sekt
> that came in a 7-Up-sized bottle.
> My WAG is that this use of "fish" came about as a consequence of the
> manner in which the squares were easily "hooked" by the "bait" - the
> miniskirt. The miniskirt had not yet been officially "invented" by
> Mary Quant, but it certainly existed as early as 1960. Even shorter
> skirts - the likewise-not-yet-officially-invented micro-mini - were
> reserved for wearing only on payday.
> Since pantyhose had also not yet been invented, the average G.I. was
> mustered out with a knowledge of styles of garter belt far superior to
> anything that could have been gleaned through even the closest reading
> of a Frederick's of Hollywood catalog.
> --
> -Wilson
> -----
> All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint
> to come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
> -Mark Twain
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