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See also: Fish, FISH, and The Fish


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Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English fisch, from Old English fisċ (fish), from Proto-West Germanic *fisk, from Proto-Germanic *fiskaz (fish) (compare West Frisian fisk, Dutch vis, German Fisch, Danish fisk, Norwegian fisk, Swedish fisk, Icelandic fiskur), from Proto-Indo-European *peysḱ- (fish) (compare Irish iasc, Latin piscis).


fish (countable and uncountable, plural fish or fishes)

  1. (countable) A cold-blooded vertebrate animal that lives in water, moving with the help of fins and breathing with gills.
    Salmon is a fish.
    The fishmonger sells fishes from all over the world.
    Ichthyologists study the fish of the world.
    We have many fish in our aquarium.
  2. (archaic or loosely) Any animal (or any vertebrate) that lives exclusively in water.
    • 1774, Oliver Goldsmith, History of the Earth and Animated Nature, volume IV:
      The whale, the limpet, the tortoise and the oyster… as men have been willing to give them all the name of fishes, it is wisest for us to conform.
    • 1851, Herman Melville, Moby-Dick[1]:
      Be it known that, waiving all argument, I take the good old fashioned ground that the whale is a fish, and call upon holy Jonah to back me.
  3. (Newfoundland) Cod; codfish.
  4. (uncountable) The flesh of the fish used as food.
    • 2012 March, “Flexing your brain”, in Consumer Reports on Health, volume 24, number 3, page 9:
      Include low-mercury fish in your diet (such as salmon) and eat at least five servings a day of fruit and vegetables, especially dark leafy greens, broccoli, and cauliflower. Avoid saturated and trans fats, which may hasten brain aging.
    The seafood pasta had lots of fish but not enough pasta.
    Though Lena is a vegetarian, she doesn't have any problem with eating fish.
  5. (uncountable) A card game in which the object is to obtain cards in pairs or sets of four (depending on the variation), by asking the other players for cards of a particular rank.
  6. (uncountable, derogatory, slang) A woman.[1]
  7. (countable, slang) An easy victim for swindling.
  8. (countable, poker slang) A bad poker player. Compare shark (a good poker player).
  9. (countable, nautical) A makeshift overlapping longitudinal brace, originally shaped roughly like a fish, used to temporarily repair or extend a spar or mast of a ship.
  10. (nautical) A purchase used to fish the anchor.
  11. (countable, nautical, military, slang) A torpedo (self-propelled explosive device).
    • 1977, Richard O'Kane, Clear the Bridge: The War Patrols of the U.S.S. Tang, Ballantine Books, published 2003, page 344:
      The second and third fish went to the middle of her long superstructure and under her forward deck.
    • 1999, John Winton, The Submariners: Life in British Submarines 1901-1999, page 114:
      As we came off patrol we had some torpedoes fired at us by an enemy submarine but we dived out of the way. About April 10 we fired our fish in two salvoes at a convoy.
  12. (zoology) A paraphyletic grouping of the following extant taxonomic groups:
    1. Class Myxini, the hagfish (no vertebrae)
    2. Class Petromyzontida, the lampreys (no jaw)
    3. Within infraphylum Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates (also including Tetrapoda))
      1. Class Chondrichthyes, cartilaginous fish such as sharks and rays
      2. Superclass Osteichthyes, bony fish.
  13. (cartomancy) The thirty-fourth Lenormand card.
  14. (prison slang) A new (usually vulnerable) prisoner.
  15. (Jamaica, offensive, derogatory) A male homosexual; a gay man.
    • 2007, “Touch The Road” (track 18), in Gangsta for Life: The Symphony of David Brooks, performed by Mavado (singer):
      Him father is a fish so mi know say it's sprat dat
      His father is a homosexual, so I know that he is too.
    • 2021 August 4, “Street Cred”‎[2]performed by Skeng:
      Bere gunman deh ya we nuh fren fish (hey bwoy)
      Lots of gunmen are here, we don't befriend gay men (hey boy)
Usage notes[edit]

The collective plural of fish is normally fish in the UK, except in archaic texts where fishes may be encountered; in the US, fishes is encountered as well, but much less commonly. When referring to two or more kinds of fish, the plural is fishes.

Derived terms[edit]
Related terms[edit]
  • Sranan Tongo: fisi
  • Chinook Jargon: pish
  • Finnish: fisu
  • Zulu: ufishi

Etymology 2[edit]

Deverbal from to fish (etymology 3).


fish (plural fishes)

  1. A period of time spent fishing.
    The fish at the lake didn't prove successful.
  2. An instance of seeking something.
    Merely two fishes for information told the whole story.

Etymology 3[edit]

From Old English fiscian, from Proto-West Germanic *fiskōn, from Proto-Germanic *fiskōną.


fish (third-person singular simple present fishes, present participle fishing, simple past and past participle fished)

  1. (intransitive) To hunt fish or other aquatic animals in a body of water.
    We went fishing for crabs by the pier.
    She went to the river to fish for trout.
    • 19th c., anonymous, "The Bonny Ship the 'Diamond'"
      It's cheer up, my lads, let your hearts never fail,
      For the bonny ship the Diamond goes a-fishing for the whale.
  2. (transitive) To search (a body of water) for something other than fish.
    They fished the surrounding lakes for the dead body.
  3. (fishing, transitive) To use as bait when fishing.
    • 1983, The Fisherman Who Laughed, page 40:
      `What you need are frogs,' said the veteran. `Fish them at night. There's nothing like them on big cork floats.'
  4. (intransitive) To (attempt to) find or get hold of an object by searching among other objects.
    Synonym: rummage
    Why are you fishing through my things?
    He was fishing for the keys in his pocket.
  5. (intransitive, followed by "for" or "around for") To talk to people in an attempt to get them to say something, or seek to obtain something by artifice.
    The detective visited the local pubs fishing around for more information.
    The actors loitered at the door, fishing for compliments.
    • 1820, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Oedipus Tyrannus; Or, Swellfoot The Tyrant: A Tragedy in Two Acts:
      Laoctonos is fishing for a compliment,
      But ’tis his due. Yes, you have drunk more wine,
      And shed more blood, than any man in Thebes.
  6. (intransitive, cricket) Of a batsman, to attempt to hit a ball outside off stump and miss it.
  7. (nautical, transitive) To repair (a spar or mast) by fastening a beam or other long object (often called a fish) over the damaged part (see Noun above).
    • 1970, James Henderson, The Frigates, an account of the lesser warships of the wars from 1793 to 1815, Wordsworth, published 1998, page 143:
      [] the crew were set to replacing and splicing the rigging and fishing the spars.
  8. (nautical, transitive) To hoist the flukes of.
    • 1860, Accounts and Papers of the House of Commons, page 214:
      Found that the cause of the ship's having drifted on the night of the 19th, was from the bight of the chain span (used to fish the anchor,) having slipped between the shank and upper fluke, thereby preventing the lower fluke from opening []
Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 4[edit]

Borrowed from French fiche (peg, mark).


fish (plural fishes)

  1. (obsolete) A counter, used in various games.


  1. ^ Reuben, David R. (1969), chapter 8, in Everything you always wanted to know about sex but were too afraid to ask, New York: David McKay Company, Inc., published 1970, →LCCN, Homosexuals have their own language?, page 145: “FISH: woman (contemptuously)”

Further reading[edit]

Middle English[edit]


fish (plural fishes or fish)

  1. Alternative form of fisch