Printable Version
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. (Usually misspelled phish) To attempt to fraudulently acquire sensitive information, such as passwords and credit card details, by pretending to represent a familiar (financial) institution.

Notes: Don't take the bait.Today we are focusing on the verb to 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 (,, and others). 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 trash can (or bin).

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, Fisch in German, and fish in English come as no surprise. 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), which is to say, "pig fish". How unkind could the ancestors of today's French speakers be?!

Dr. Goodword,

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