"catfishing"--early WOTY candidate?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Jan 17 01:05:28 UTC 2013

So we know about the hoax allegedly perpetrated on Manti Te'o, in which the celebrated Mormon linebacker from Notre Dame, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy competition in part because of the heartbreaking human interest story involving the simultaneous deaths of his beloved grandmother (of something) and girlfriend (of leukemia, following a car accident), which inspired him as he led the Fighting Irish to their top-ranked position in the college football polls and the national championship game (where they eventually got blown out).  It now develops that the girlfriend who heartbreakingly died never actually existed, although Te'o evidently was unaware of this (although there are conflicting stories).  What makes all of this backstory WOTY-worthy is that this practice of perpetrating such a hoax was known, at least on ABC's World News Tonight, as "catfishing".  When I check this verb in urbandictionary, however, what turns up is a gloss that strikes me as unrelated:

To have one large pubic hair protruding from one's zipper, whether purposely or by accident. The term comes from the long barbels, or whiskers that stick out from the mouths of catfish. While the whiskers of catfish house their taste buds and are used to search for food in murky waters, the act of catfishing will only serve to make you look like a complete slob, oblivious airhead, or creepy perv.

"So I was giving a presentation the other day, and I looked down and realized that I was totally catfishing! I was so embarrassed, so I spent the rest of the time with my back to the audience!"

A very useful verb to be sure, but nothing to do with hoaxes involving non-existent girlfriends.  And the only other listed meaning has to do with emulating the catfish in laziness and bottom-feeding, again unrelated.  So what gives?  Should I be checking "catphish"?

Ah, I just noticed that the original report that broke the hoax--


 --does refer to a recent movie "Catfish" that had some of these plot element. I guess I'd have gotten the reference if I'd ever seen the movie. So this is evidently a demovie verb formation of the kind along the lines of "Gaslighting" someone.  Most creative, perhaps?


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list