Metaphors Related to Fish

  Image by Tim Pearce


9 January 2014


People who live near the ocean typically eat a lot more fish and seafood than those who live in inland areas. Because the UK is an island nation, this may be why ‘fish’ metaphors are so common in English.


Here are some of those metaphors.


Something’s fishy.

Fish that isn’t fresh has an unpleasant odour.


As a metaphor, if you say ‘something is fishy’ or ‘that sounds fishy’, it means that you’re suspicious about it. In other words, it stinks (but not literally). For example, if someone tries to sell you something that’s too good to be true, you might think to yourself, ‘Something’s fishy about that’.


That’s a pretty kettle of fish.

If you hear someone using this expression, they’re talking about a situation that is awkward or messy. You might use this statement to describe a time when a co-worker has really messed up at work, causing problems or embarrassment.


He’s/She's a big fish in a small pond.

This expression is used to talk about someone who is important (or famous) within a small group or community.


Saying that someone is a big fish in a small pond is a bit of an insult to that person, because in a bigger group (or ‘pond’), they wouldn’t be famous at all.


Note: You'll probably never hear the opposite expression (he’s a small fish in a big pond). Instead, you could say, ‘he’s just small fry’ (ie, ‘he’s unimportant’). ‘Fry’ is the word for baby fish.


There are plenty of other fish in the sea.

This is what you can say to comfort someone who has just broken up with a boyfriend or girlfriend. It means that they’re sure to find a new love.


He’s a cold fish.

If you call someone a cold fish, you’re saying that they’re unemotional – someone that doesn’t seem to care or have empathy with others.


I feel like a fish out of water.

A fish out of water is in trouble. This expression is used to talk about being in a situation where you’re out of your comfort zone. For example, when you start a new job where you need to learn a lot of new skills, you may at first feel like a fish out of water.


He/She drinks like a fish.

Despite appearances, fish don’t actually drink.


This insulting remark is used to describe people who drink an excessive amount of alcoholic beverages.


He’s fishing for compliments.

Someone who is fishing for compliments is trying to get praise from others – probably because they’re not feeling very confident about themselves or because they want to look better than someone else.


You’re on a fishing expedition.

This expression is used to describe someone who is asking lots of random questions to get information.


You’ve probably heard this on TV shows set in a courtroom, where one lawyer says, ‘Objection, Your Honour. The defense attorney is on a fishing expedition!’ This means that the defense lawyer is asking questions of a witness, trying to get information he should have got on his own before the trial.



Do you know other ‘fishy’ metaphors? Share them in the comments.

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