noun, plural (especially collectively) cat·fish, (especially referring to two or more kinds or species) cat·fish·es.
verb (used with or without object)
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Words nearby catfish
BEHIND THE WORD
What does catfish mean?
Aside from being a delicious kind of river fish, a catfish is a slang term for someone who seduces a person with a false identity online.
Where does catfish come from?
The 2010 documentary Catfish, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman about a young man getting romantically duped by a woman with a fake Facebook profile, takes its name from a tale long told about catfish—that fishers would ship catfish with codfish because they would keep the codfish alert, active, and better tasting.
That fishy story originates as a kind of Christian parable recorded by the early 1900s, but the documentary popularized catfish as a metaphor for a person who seduces another with a fake profile, pretending to be someone more attractive, successful, interesting, or sympathetic—keeping the seduced “on their toes” like codfish swimming with catfish. This is what happened to the subject of Catfish, Nev Schulman, who discovers that the woman he developed an online relationship had completely made up her profile.
The documentary spawned MTV’s reality show Catfish: The TV Show in November 2012, co-hosted by Nev Schulman. It follows people in online relationships, seeking to find out if they are getting catfished.
Catfish rose to prominence in 2013 when University of Notre Dame star football player Manti Te’o found himself catfished by a man pretending to be his girlfriend. The term further grew thanks to the spread of social media and online dating in the 2010s.
How is catfish used in real life?
Catfish can be a noun or a verb, with the impersonator sometimes called the catfish.
While early uses of the term centered on people creating false identities through fake accounts, the term has broadened to anyone who misleadingly presents themselves online as better in some way than they are in real life, often their looks or success. This—milder if widespread practice, as you’ll well know if you’ve ever been on Tinder or anywhere on social media for that matter—is sometimes called kittenfishing.
More examples of catfish:
“Personally Andy has never had need of dating apps like Bumble and Tinder because he met his wife of 14 years the old fashioned way – down the pub…But his background in criminal intelligence, he is qualified to be the perfect catfish hunter and can work with as little as a profile picture, address and contact details.”
—Becky Pemberton, The Sun, August, 2018
This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.
Example sentences from the Web for catfish
A sop to lawmakers who represent congressional districts consisting entirely of catfish ponds.
Good news is that $20 million DoA catfish office has comfy chairs and recent issues of catfish newsletters and magazines.
I plan to get shrimp as well as the catfish and also the roast beef.New Orleans Celebrates Its Favorite Sandwich at the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival|Tyler Gillespie|November 26, 2013|DAILY BEAST
Like storm chasers, Alaskan crabbers, and catfish noodlers, foragers come with their own sets of customs and rules.
“I just ended a project about a mythical story from Japan with a catfish that people thought created the earthquakes,” said Kath.
A shot from the enemy would be likely either to fly up in the air or "go into the realms of the catfish."Charles Carleton Coffin|William Elliot Griffis, D. D.
“Could catch a lot of catfish and ‘jurk’ the meat, the way Captain Clark did venison,” said Jesse, at length.The Young Alaskans on the Missouri|Emerson Hough
At half past eleven P.M. we sat down to a supper of ducks, catfish, and coffee, and all the men were in fine spirits.The Life of Isaac Ingalls Stevens, Volume I (of 2)|Hazard Stevens
And the four uncles opened the door and let the gray rat come in with the basket and the catfish.Rootabaga Stories|Carl Sandburg
Calculation of length at the last annulus for both scale-fish and catfish was made by direct proportion.Fishes of the Big Blue River Basin, Kansas|W. L. Minckley