Posted by James Briggs on May 15, 2000
In Reply to: Re: A fine kettle of fish posted by ESC on May 15, 2000
: : Where did the saying 'A different kettle of fish' (meaning a totally different issue)come from?
: "fine kettle of fish -- A kiddle or kiddle net is a basket set in the sluice ways of dams to catch fish, a device well known from the time of the Plantagenets. Royal officers had the perquisite to trap fish in kiddles, but poachers often raided the traps of fish, frequently destroying the kiddles in the process. Possibly an official came upon a destroyed trap and exclaimed, 'That's a pretty kiddle of fish!' or something similar, meaning 'a pretty sorry state of affairs!' and the phrase was born. Repeated over the years, kiddle was corrupted in everyday speech to kettle, giving us the expression as we know it today." From the "Encylopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).
A pretty kettle of fish is an expression used to indicate that there is a mess, problem or predicament. There are at least two possible origins, the first of which relates to a Kiddle. This was a grille put across a stream to catch fish. It could become full of weeds and only a few fish; alternatively, the fish might have become damaged. In any case there was a pretty kiddle of fish.
The second theory is more accepted. In this instance the "kettle", the local name for a cooking pot, was taken on picnics by Scottish gentry. Salmon were caught straight from the river and cooked on the bankside. Such an outing was known as a kettle of fish. How the current usage arose is not clear, but one can imagine all sorts of disasters being the cause.