FISH (PHISH) A follow-up on Fishwife

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FISH (PHISH) A follow-up on Fishwife

Postby Dr. Goodword » Wed Oct 12, 2005 11:23 pm

• fish •

Pronunciation: fish • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive (no object nouns)

Meaning: 1. To try to catch fish. 2. To ask questions blindly in hopes that an answer to the questions will provide information that you want. 3. (Misspelled "phish" by some) To attempt to fraudulently acquire sensitive information, such as passwords and credit card details, by pretending to represent a familiar (financial) institution.

Notes: Today we are focusing on the verb fish, since it is being used to describe a rampant Internet scam these days. The silly misspelling, "phish", doesn't change the fact that the word itself is our old verb, fish, simply used in a new context. This is to alert you to the scam and tell you how you can (usually) detect it.

In Play: Every day I receive several e-mail messages putatively from E-Bay, PayPal, and various banks. They tell me that they are upgrading their security system and need my username and password, or that they have closed my account until I reset my username and password at their site. The message includes a link to what seems to be the website of the company in question (,, etc.). However, if you run your cursor over the link, you will see in the status bar at the bottom of your e-mail browser a different URL. If the link in an e-mail message is different from the one that appears at the bottom of your browser, don't click it but send the e-mail message to the garbage.

Word History: The original Proto-Indo-European root of today's good if ordinary word was *pisk- "fish", which turns up pretty much unchanged in Latin piscis "fish", whose plural is pisces. Since [p] regularly became [f] in Germanic languages, fisk in Swedish and fish in English are unsurprising. Porpoise, however, might come as a surprise. This word we borrowed from French, where it started out as porc "pig" + pois-, the root of poisson "fish" (originally Latin piscis), i.e. "pig fish". How unkind French can be!
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Postby Stargzer » Thu Oct 13, 2005 12:10 am

Phish (see also Phish on Wikipedia) is also a rock band with a following as legendary as that of the Grateful Dead. The band took its name from the drummer, Jon Fishman. I'm not sure why they picked that peculiar spelling; perhaps just to be different, perhaps to distinguish themselves for the earlier psychadelic band, Country Joe and The Fish.

Speaking of Country Joe and the Fish, if you ever get a chance to see the 1971 movie Zachariah, in which they play a gang of outlaws, pay careful attention to the scene where they go to rob the "gold" shipment. As the buckboard goes over a hill, you see the word "GOLD" in dark letters on the box holding the precious cargo. Above it, in faded letters, is the word "ACAPULCO." :wink:

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Re: FISH (PHISH) A follow-up on Fishwife

Postby Flaminius » Thu Oct 13, 2005 11:48 am

Dr. Goodword wrote:This word we borrowed from French, where it started out as porc "pig" + pois-, the root of poisson "fish" (originally Latin piscis), i.e. "pig fish". How unkind French can be!

Dolphins are called 海豚 (sea-pig) in Chinese and several other languages that borrowed the word from it. I am remembering that French and Chinese are both great at culinary arts.


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Re: FISH (PHISH) A follow-up on Fishwife

Postby M. Henri Day » Thu Oct 13, 2005 5:39 pm

Flaminius wrote:...

Dolphins are called 海豚 (sea-pig) in Chinese and several other languages that borrowed the word from it....

Among them, Japanese, where the term いるか (iruka) is written with those same Chinese graphs. But one doesn't have to go to East Asian languages or even to French to find a term that recognises this inhabitant of the sea is not a fish (phish ?) but a mammal ; indeed, in English itself it can be referred to as a «sea-hog», as confirmed by the following entry in the AHD, which seems to blame it all (as usual, one might say) on the Germans :

por·poise Listen: [ pôr'pǝs ]
n. pl. porpoise or por·pois·es

1. Any of several gregarious toothed whales of the genus Phocaena and related genera, of oceanic waters, characteristically having a blunt snout and a triangular dorsal fin. Also called sea hog.

2. Any of several related aquatic mammals, such as the dolphin.
[Middle English porpeis, from Old French ( probably translation of a Germanic compound meaning sea-pig) : porc, pig (from Latin porcus; see porko- in Indo-European roots) + peis, fish (from Latin piscis).]

In addition to «delphinus», which they took from the Greeks, the Latins seem also to have referred to these minor whales by the term «cetus», also of Greek origin. But with regard to sea hogs, it is interesting to note that whales are now thought to be descendents of artiodactyls, just like pigs....


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