People who go on fishing expeditions sometimes end up getting caught.
That's "fishing" as in "trying to get something indirectly or by cunning."
Trying to catch fish, on the other hand, involves a mix of skill, knowledge and luck, but cunning is a low priority because fish aren't all that bright. Sometimes they just don't bite. (Or maybe that's just what they want us to think.)
To call someone a fish is to suggest that person is "easily lured by bait" or "lacking intelligence or emotion." Which reminds me of the ancient joke about how fish ought to be intelligent because they travel in schools.
Actually, "school" in reference to a bunch of fish comes from a Dutch word for "a crowd," also called a "shoal." That's not the same as the "shoal" that means "a shallow place" in a body of water, which would be a good place to spot a school of fish.
And that's no "fish story," which is a term for an outlandish or otherwise unbelievable tale and is based on what Webster's New World charmingly calls "the conventional exaggeration" by fishermen about the one that got away.
It also gives us the informal use of "fishy" for "questionable" or causing suspicion. "Fishy" also describes a "dull and expressionless" odor and look.
"Fishtailing" can lead to trouble. This verb, from the motion of a swimming fish, applies to swinging the tail of an airplane to slow it down or the similar but unintentional swinging of a motor vehicle, particularly one that's encountered a slick spot.
At such times, a driver can feel like "a fish out of water."
Filling out our stringer of fish phrases and terms:
"Neither fish nor fowl" is a way to categorize something that has no clear category.
A "fishbowl" is a confining environment that offers no privacy. As with people in other glass housing, those in a fishbowl should remember that their "activities are open to public view."
A woman who sells fish is a "fishwife." It must be a job that requires some radical hard-sell techniques, because "fishwife" also has become a synonym for "a coarse, scolding woman," fish or no fish.
People who imbibe to excess are said to "drink like a fish." Of course, a fish prefers water, and it actually "drinks" to obtain oxygen. Folks who drink alcohol should take a breather now and then, too.
To "fish in troubled waters" is "to try to gain something by taking advantage of a confused or troubled situation."
If that doesn't work out, a person must decide whether to "fish or cut bait" -- that is, "proceed energetically with a task or give it up altogether."
Of course, if we choose the latter, that means the fish win.
On the other hand, maybe we have "other fish to fry."
Hunting for Nimrod
In a recent phone call to the newsroom, a crossword puzzle fan objected to the clue "fool" for "nimrod." She said her research revealed Nimrod to be an ancient warrior and not a fool.
According to Bryan A. Garner in "Garner's Modern American Usage," Nimrod can be found in Genesis, where he is described as a king and mighty hunter, and in dictionaries "nimrod" as a generic term means "hunter."
Garner says that by the late 20th century, nimrod also had become slang for "simpleton, dunderhead, blockhead," and this definition "threatens to kill off the hunter sense."
The two meanings merged in a classic Bugs Bunny cartoon in which the rascally rabbit referred to one of his armed pursuers as "the little nimrod," one he always outsmarted. Bugs was no dumb bunny.
Barry Wood is a senior copy editor for the Register Star. Contact him at email@example.com.