Printable Version
Pronunciation: fish-wayf Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: No, even if you married a cold fish, she isn't a fishwife. She is\, however, if she is either 1. a woman who sells fish or 2. a woman who uses coarse, vulgar language.

Notes: The plural of this Good Word is 'semiregular': fishwives. It is regular because, like similar nouns, life : lives, hoof : hooves, the [f] becomes [v] in the plural. However, not all nouns that end on [f] change it to [v] in the plural, e.g. fife : fifes, roof : roofs, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are not the Maple Leaves. So the plural of today's word is regular and irregular at the same time.

In Play: Back in the days of Billingsgate, women who sold fish acquired the reputation of using abusive language. I suppose smelling fish all day could have that effect on anyone. In fact, women who sell fish are not called fishwives anymore, but the reputation of their name carries forward: "When I told her that her son would be working for mine someday, she turned and left, swearing like a fishwife."

Word History: The historical question raised by this Good Word is: why did female fish-peddlars have to be married? In fact, they didn't. In Old English, wif meant simply "woman". Woman, in fact, derives from Old English wifman "a woman person" (as opposed to a wpen-man "weapon person" = a man). So, the original meaning of fishwife was simply "fish woman", paralleling German Weib and Dutch wijf, which also mean simply "woman". (Today's Good Word comes from a woman person by the name of Rachel Keller, otherwise known as Pooky Zoo in the Alpha Agora.)

Dr. Goodword,

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