Something’s Fishy about the Origins of Idiomatic Expressions

Yesterday I decided to mix things up a little bit and walk on the other side of the street on my way to work. At the top of Broughton, on a block where real estate offices fuse with sports pubs and Punjabi cuisine, I took a deep breath of air, thick with the smell of salt and fresh fish. Lo-and-behold, displayed in a window to my right lay a bounty of seafood on ice; scales, claws and beady eyes glittered at me through the glass of a local fish monger’s store.

Something Fishy, a family-run establishment has a reputation studded with stars and compliments but what strikes me as remarkable is how its clever use of pun for a title is perhaps as equally as attractive as its display case.

According to the Times of India newspaper, the idiomatic expression “There’s something fishy,” or “Something’s fishy” comes from evaluating whether old meat has past its expiration date; when meat smells bad, or “fishy,” it is then deemed rotten, thus inedible. Also, when an old fish itself smells nauseatingly off in comparison to a freshly caught one, it is similarly considered unfit for consumption. And here I was thinking it came from some old fishwives’ folktale!

This may be a bit off the subject but I’ll try my best to show its relevance. Online article, “The Lure of the Red Herring” (World Wide, briefly outlines the misconception that given the lack of a cat carcass smoked herring was used to train hounds how to follow a scent trail in preparation for fox-hunts. Michael Quinion’s search for literary proof as to whether the use of fish in fox-hunting was genuine or fictional is still ongoing but I see a slight connection with the expression, “Something’s fishy.” Using pungent fish was an effective training tool, but in ethical terms couldn’t it be considered misleading to give a novice hunting dog the scent of smoked herring when they’re in search of a bushy-tailed fox? I would say that the fish (and fishiness) makes quite the wild goose chase out of a fox hunt!

Today we continue to use “fishy” as culinary diction, but over time this “Something’s fishy” has transcended into colloquial language, and not necessarily restricted to conversations about fish either. This saying is commonly used to question reliability, communicating that something suspicious is going on, or in other words, to express one’s doubt regarding an untrustworthy statement or plausible fact.

Considering their great reviews, there certainly isn’t anything fishy about Something Fishy  !!!

something fishy (someecard)



For more information about the origins of ‘Something’s Fishy’:

For Michael Quinion’s “The Lure of the Red Herring”:

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