Printable Version
Pronunciation: fish Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: To attempt to obtain by deceit over the Internet confidential information that suffices to defraud someone or some organization.

Notes: This word is a concoction (as opposed to a grammatical derivation) that has crept into the language via the back door. It appears today in several dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary, grandfather of them all. The present participle, phishing, is used for an action noun and adjective, but the personal noun, phisher, is afoot on the Internet.

In Play: The most common way of getting a password is phishing, using a fake logo or a well-known e-mail return address. Fishing can be legal or illegal, but phishing is always illegal: "Margherita wondered where her husband was going; was he saying, 'I'm going fishing' or 'I'm going phishing'?" It is rarely successful, but the results can be devastating: "The company lost millions of contacts including credit card numbers as a result of a phishing expedition."

Word History: Today's Good Word was concocted by analogy with pharming "changing the genes of a plant or animal to produce medicine" and phreaking "Illegally using the telephone without paying". So, it is simply a cute misspelling of a figurative use of fish. Fish is the Germanic rendition of Proto-Indo-European pisk- "fish", seen also in German Fisch, Dutch vis, Danish and Norwegian fisk, Italian pesce, French pêcher "to fish", Latin piscis, Breton pesk, Irish iasg, and Welsh pysgod. (Now let's thank Susan Maynard for alerting us to today's very topical Good Word and the criminal activity it refers to.)

Dr. Goodword,

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