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A bit fishy

Posted by Smokey Stover on October 19, 2008 at 20:16

In Reply to: A bit fishy posted by Linzee on October 19, 2008 at 12:37:

: What is the origin of the phrase "smells a bit fishy", meaning there is something not right? Why use fishy rather than something else a bit off?

Why use fishy for something a bit off? As early as the 16th century people have noted their distaste for something by comparing it to the odor of too old fish, and "slippery as a fish" has a also been used to express disfavor. People have also remarked on "fishy eyes" to denote what they think of as "dead-looking" eyes, or staring eyes. But the smell is probably the meaning in "a bit fishy." A transaction that seems dishonest in some way is thought of as malodorous, and what bad smell is more common and more noticeable than the smell of decaying fish? Perhaps I should ask, "What bad smell WAS more common?" since the usage gained currency centuries ago, before refrigerators were invented. Even so, anyone who has been to a beach is likely to recognize a fishy smell.