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Idioms about fish

Origin of fish

First recorded 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; (verb) Middle English fishen, Old English fiscian, cognate with Dutch visschen, German fischen, Old Norse fiska, Gothic fiskôn


fish·less, adjectivefish·like, adjectiveout·fish, verb (used with object)un·fished, adjective


fiche, fish

Other definitions for fish (2 of 2)

[ fish ]
/ fɪʃ /

Hamilton, 1808–93, U.S. statesman: secretary of state 1869–77.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What else does fish mean?

Fish, appearing especially in the phrase fresh fish, is prison slang for new, first-time inmates, usually considered naive and vulnerable.

Fish, often appearing in the form of fishy or the phrase serving fish, is also slang in drag culture for a very feminine drag queen.

Content warning: this article contains references to sexual and sexist content.

Where does fish come from?

Fish has been recorded as prison slang for new inmates since the 1870s. The term apparently likens new prisoners to fish fresh out of the water. One theory about the slang’s origin claims that inmates were issued uniforms with their inmate numbers stamped with an ink that smelled fishy when wet.

Fish for new inmates shouldn’t be confused with another prison slang term, fishing. This refers to using a string to pass contraband items between cells in a manner similar to casting a fishing line.

Fish is also slang in the drag community. Alluding to popular beliefs about female genitalia, fish, here, refers to a drag queen who closely resembles a woman. Referring to a drag queen as fishy, or saying they are serving fish, is considered complimentary within the drag community, but keep in mind that such a description for women and their bodies is generally extremely offensive.

How is fish used in real life?

Both prisoners and prison staff may use fish to belittle new, first-time inmates. It has appeared in popular media, including the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption, as well as in a 2005 episode of the TV show Prison Break, which contains the fan favorite line “Welcome to Prisneyland, fish.”

Once again, in drag culture, fish/fishy/serving fish are taken as compliments, but, elsewhere, likening female genitalia to a fish is offensive.

More examples of fish:

“Walking a dog down the streets of LA is like walking the new fish down a crowded row of prison cells in a movie.”
—@shelbyfero, October 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.

How to use fish in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for fish (1 of 2)

/ (fɪʃ) /

noun plural fish or fishes
See also fish out

Derived forms of fish

fishable, adjectivefishlike, adjective

Word Origin for fish

Old English fisc; related to Old Norse fiskr, Gothic fiscs, Russian piskar, Latin piscis

British Dictionary definitions for fish (2 of 2)

/ (fɪʃ) /

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

Scientific definitions for fish

[ fĭsh ]

Plural fish 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 © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Other Idioms and Phrases with fish


The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.