"catfishing"--early WOTY candidate?

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Thu Jan 31 06:02:32 UTC 2013

My latest Boston Globe column is on "catfishing" and other historical
parallels, including "gaslighting":


And here's my Word Routes followup (citing our discussion here):


On Wed, Jan 16, 2013 at 8:56 PM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
> In his press conference this evening, Notre Dame athletic director
> Jack Swarbrick referenced the movie "Catfish" and the MTV spinoff of
> the same name, and also used the verbal noun "catfishing" (which he
> admitted to learning about from Dr. Phil).
> On Wed, Jan 16, 2013 at 8:05 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>> 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".
> [...]
>> Ah, I just noticed that the original report that broke the hoax--
>> http://deadspin.com/5976517/manti-teos-dead-girlfriend-the-most-heartbreaking-and-inspirational-story-of-the-college-football-season-is-a-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?

Ben Zimmer

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

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