fish out of water

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  • Earliest recorded use: "Fishes out of the Water" (1613, Samuel Purchas, Pilgrimage).
  • Earliest use of metaphor by Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales: Prologue (1483) as "fissh that is waterlees".

Compare also the antonymous French comme un poisson dans l’eau, German wie ein Fisch im Wasser.


  • (file)


fish out of water (plural fishes out of water or fish out of water)

  1. (idiomatic) A person in unfamiliar and often uncomfortable surroundings.
    Synonym: square peg in a round hole
    • 1921, Edgar Wallace, chapter 2, in The Book of All-Power:
      [I]nto this queer assembly, something of a fish out of water and wholly out of his element, strode Cherry Bim, that redoubtable man.
    • 1942 May 25, “Sport: Pitcher Hits Ball”, in Time, retrieved 2 October 2016:
      A pitcher at bat is usually considered such a fish out of water that he is expected to foul, ground or strike out.
    • 1990 September 17, Larry Rohter, quoting Quincy Jones, “‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ Puts Rap in Mainstream”, in The New York Times[1], →ISSN:
      “The basis of this show is fish out of water,” said the executive producer, Quincy Jones, the music impresario who has never before put his name on a television series but whose work as producer of Michael Jackson's albums won him respect in Hollywood as a canny judge of public tastes.
    • 2004 December 22, Jennifer Medina, “Housewives, Try This for Desperation”, in New York Times, retrieved 2 October 2016:
      Many stay-at-home fathers find that they are fish out of water, too.