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[fish] /fɪʃ/
noun, plural (especially collectively) fish (especially referring to two or more kinds or species) fishes.
any of various cold-blooded, aquatic vertebrates, having gills, commonly fins, and typically an elongated body covered with scales.
(loosely) any of various other aquatic animals.
the flesh of fishes used as food.
Fishes, Astronomy, Astrology. the constellation or sign of Pisces.
Informal. a person:
an odd fish; a poor fish.
a long strip of wood, iron, etc., used to strengthen a mast, joint, etc.
Cards Slang. an incompetent player whose incompetence can be exploited.
Slang. a dollar:
He sold the car for 500 fish.
Slang. a new prison inmate.
verb (used with object)
to catch or attempt to catch (any species of fish or the like).
to try to catch fish in (a stream, lake, etc.):
Let's fish the creek.
to draw, as by fishing (often followed by up or out):
He fished a coin out of his pocket for the boy.
to search through, as by fishing.
  1. to secure (an anchor) by raising the flukes.
  2. to reinforce (a mast or other spar) by fastening a spar, batten, metal bar, or the like, lengthwise over a weak place.
verb (used without object)
to catch or attempt to catch fish, as by angling or drawing a net.
to search carefully:
He fished through all his pockets but his wallet was gone.
to seek to obtain something indirectly or by artifice:
to fish for compliments; to fish for information.
to search for or attempt to catch onto something under water, in mud, etc., by the use of a dredge, rake, hook, or the like.
to attempt to recover detached tools or other loose objects from an oil or gas well.
Verb phrases
fish out, to deplete (a lake, stream, etc.) of fish by fishing.
drink like a fish, to drink alcoholic beverages to excess:
Nobody invites him out because he drinks like a fish.
fish in troubled waters, to take advantage of troubled or uncertain conditions for personal profit.
fish or cut bait, to choose a definite course of action, especially to decide whether to participate in or retreat from an activity.
fish out of water, a person out of his or her proper or accustomed environment:
He felt like a fish out of water in an academic atmosphere.
neither fish nor fowl, having no specific character or conviction; neither one nor the other.
other fish to fry, other matters requiring attention:
When it was time to act, they had other fish to fry.
Origin of fish
before 900; (noun) Middle English fis(c)h, fyssh, Old English fisc; cognate with Dutch vis, German Fisch, Old Norse fiskr, Gothic fisks; akin to Latin piscis, Irish iasc; (v.) Middle English fishen, Old English fiscian, cognate with Dutch visschen, German fischen, Old Norse fiska, Gothic fiskôn
Related forms
fishless, adjective
fishlike, adjective
outfish, verb (used with object)
unfished, adjective
Can be confused
fiche, fish. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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British Dictionary definitions for fish or cut bait


noun acronym
fluorescence in situ hybridization, a technique for detecting and locating gene mutations and chromosome abnormalities


noun (pl) fish, fishes
  1. any of a large group of cold-blooded aquatic vertebrates having jaws, gills, and usually fins and a skin covered in scales: includes the sharks and rays (class Chondrichthyes: cartilaginous fishes) and the teleosts, lungfish, etc (class Osteichthyes: bony fishes)
  2. (in combination): fishpond, related adjectives ichthyic ichthyoid piscine
any of various similar but jawless vertebrates, such as the hagfish and lamprey
(not in technical use) any of various aquatic invertebrates, such as the cuttlefish, jellyfish, and crayfish
the flesh of fish used as food
(informal) a person of little emotion or intelligence: a poor fish
short for fishplate
Also called tin fish an informal word for torpedo (sense 1)
a fine kettle of fish, an awkward situation; mess
drink like a fish, to drink (esp alcohol) to excess
have other fish to fry, to have other activities to do, esp more important ones
like a fish out of water, out of one's usual place
(Irish) make fish of one and flesh of another, to discriminate unfairly between people
neither fish, flesh, nor fowl, neither this nor that
(intransitive) to attempt to catch fish, as with a line and hook or with nets, traps, etc
(transitive) to fish in (a particular area of water)
to search (a body of water) for something or to search for something, esp in a body of water
(intransitive) foll by for. to seek something indirectly: to fish for compliments
See also fish out
Derived Forms
fishable, adjective
fishlike, adjective
Word Origin
Old English fisc; related to Old Norse fiskr, Gothic fiscs, Russian piskar, Latin piscis
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for fish or cut bait



Old English fiscian (cf. Old Norse fiska, Old High German fiscon, German fischen, Gothic fiskon), from the root of fish (n.). Related: Fished; fishing.



Old English fisc, from Proto-Germanic *fiskaz (cf. Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Old High German fisc, Old Norse fiskr, Middle Dutch visc, Dutch vis, German Fisch, Gothic fisks), from PIE *peisk- "fish" (cf. Latin piscis, Irish iasc, and, via Latin, Italian pesce, French poisson, Spanish pez, Welsh pysgodyn, Breton pesk).

Fish story attested from 1819, from the tendency to exaggerate the size of the catch (or the one that got away). Figurative sense of fish out of water first recorded 1610s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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fish or cut bait in Science

Plural fish or fishes
Any of numerous cold-blooded vertebrate animals that live in water. Fish have gills for obtaining oxygen, a lateral line for sensing pressure changes in the water, and a vertical tail. Most fish are covered with scales and have limbs in the form of fins. Fish were once classified together as a single group, but are now known to compose numerous evolutionarily distinct classes, including the bony fish, cartilaginous fish, jawless fish, lobe-finned fish, and placoderms.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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fish or cut bait in Culture

Fish or cut bait definition

Make a decision now; stop hesitating. To cut bait is to stop fishing.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Slang definitions & phrases for fish or cut bait

fish or cut bait


  1. Do one thing or another, but stop dithering; take action; shit or get off the pot •Usu a firm or irritated demand: The union leader warned that the city had until Feb
  2. to ''fish or cut bait'' (1876+)



  1. A new inmate: As a ''fish'' at Charlestown, I was physically miserable (1870s+ Prison)
  2. A nonmember of a street gang; a person regarded as inimical and distasteful by a street gang (1950s+ Street gang)
  3. A weak or stupid person, esp one easily victimized; patsy, sucker: Why should he be the fish for the big guys?/ The superteams get stronger. They can pad their schedules with the occasional fish (1753+)
  4. A person, esp a criminal, thought of as being caught like a fish: The cops catch a lot of very interesting fish (1885+)
  5. A heterosexual woman (1970s+ Homosexuals)
  6. A prostitute; hooker •Fish meant ''vulva'' by the 1890s and retained the meaning, at least in black English, until at least the 1930s (1930s+)
  7. A dollar: The job paid only fifty fish (1920+)
  8. tin fish •Fish torpedo is found by 1876 (1928+)


  1. To seek information, esp by a legal or quasi-legal process having a very general aim; go fishing (1563+)
  2. To ask for something, usually a compliment, esp in an indirect and apparently modest way (1803+)

Related Terms

big fish, bigger fish to fry, cold fish, fine kettle of fish, go fishing, kettle of fish, like shooting fish in a barrel, poor fish, queer fish, tin fish

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with fish or cut bait

fish or cut bait

Either proceed with an activity or abandon it completely. For example, You've been putting off calling him for hours; either fish or cut bait. This expression, often uttered as an imperative, alludes to a fisherman who should either be actively trying to catch fish or cutting up bait for others to use. It was first recorded in the Congressional Record (1876), when Congressman Joseph P. Cannon called for a vote on a bill legalizing the silver dollar: “I want you gentlemen on the other side of the House to ‘fish or cut bait.’” A vulgar synonym from the 1940s is shit or get off the pot.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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