noun, plural (especially collectively) fish, (especially referring to two or more kinds or species) fish·es.

  1. any of various cold-blooded, aquatic vertebrates, having gills, commonly fins, and typically an elongated body covered with scales.
  2. (loosely) any of various other aquatic animals.
  3. the flesh of fishes used as food.
  4. Fishes, Astronomy, Astrology. the constellation or sign of Pisces.
  5. Informal. a person: an odd fish; a poor fish.
  6. a long strip of wood, iron, etc., used to strengthen a mast, joint, etc.
  7. Cards Slang. an incompetent player whose incompetence can be exploited.
  8. Slang. a dollar: He sold the car for 500 fish.
  9. Slang. a new prison inmate.

verb (used with object)

  1. to catch or attempt to catch (any species of fish or the like).
  2. to try to catch fish in (a stream, lake, etc.): Let’s fish the creek.
  3. to draw, as by fishing (often followed by up or out): He fished a coin out of his pocket for the boy.
  4. to search through, as by fishing.
  5. Nautical.
    1. to secure (an anchor) by raising the flukes.
    2. to reinforce (a mast or other spar) by fastening a spar, batten, metal bar, or the like, lengthwise over a weak place.

verb (used without object)

  1. to catch or attempt to catch fish, as by angling or drawing a net.
  2. to search carefully: He fished through all his pockets but his wallet was gone.
  3. to seek to obtain something indirectly or by artifice: to fish for compliments; to fish for information.
  4. to search for or attempt to catch onto something under water, in mud, etc., by the use of a dredge, rake, hook, or the like.
  5. to attempt to recover detached tools or other loose objects from an oil or gas well.

Verb Phrases

  1. fish out, to deplete (a lake, stream, etc.) of fish by fishing.
  1. drink like a fish, to drink alcoholic beverages to excess: Nobody invites him out because he drinks like a fish.
  2. fish in troubled waters, to take advantage of troubled or uncertain conditions for personal profit.
  3. fish or cut bait, to choose a definite course of action, especially to decide whether to participate in or retreat from an activity.
  4. fish out of water, a person out of his or her proper or accustomed environment: He felt like a fish out of water in an academic atmosphere.
  5. neither fish nor fowl, having no specific character or conviction; neither one nor the other.
  6. other fish to fry, other matters requiring attention: When it was time to act, they had other fish to fry.


  1. Hamilton,1808–93, U.S. statesman: secretary of state 1869–77.

noun plural fish or fishes

    1. any of a large group of cold-blooded aquatic vertebrates having jaws, gills, and usually fins and a skin covered in scales: includes the sharks and rays (class Chondrichthyes : cartilaginous fishes) and the teleosts, lungfish, etc (class Osteichthyes : bony fishes)
    2. (in combination)fishpond Related adjectives: ichthyic, ichthyoid, piscine
  1. any of various similar but jawless vertebrates, such as the hagfish and lamprey
  2. (not in technical use) any of various aquatic invertebrates, such as the cuttlefish, jellyfish, and crayfish
  3. the flesh of fish used as food
  4. informal a person of little emotion or intelligencea poor fish
  5. short for fishplate
  6. Also called: tin fish an informal word for torpedo (def. 1)
  7. a fine kettle of fish an awkward situation; mess
  8. drink like a fish to drink (esp alcohol) to excess
  9. have other fish to fry to have other activities to do, esp more important ones
  10. like a fish out of water out of one’s usual place
  11. make fish of one and flesh of another Irish to discriminate unfairly between people
  12. neither fish, flesh, nor fowl neither this nor that


  1. (intr) to attempt to catch fish, as with a line and hook or with nets, traps, etc
  2. (tr) to fish in (a particular area of water)
  3. to search (a body of water) for something or to search for something, esp in a body of water
  4. (intr foll by for) to seek something indirectlyto fish for compliments

n acronym for

  1. fluorescence in situ hybridization, a technique for detecting and locating gene mutations and chromosome abnormalities

Old English fisc, from Proto-Germanic *fiskaz (cf. Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Old High German fisc, Old Norse fiskr, Middle Dutch visc, Dutch vis, German Fisch, Gothic fisks), from PIE *peisk- “fish” (cf. Latin piscis, Irish iasc, and, via Latin, Italian pesce, French poisson, Spanish pez, Welsh pysgodyn, Breton pesk).

Fish story attested from 1819, from the tendency to exaggerate the size of the catch (or the one that got away). Figurative sense of fish out of water first recorded 1610s.


Old English fiscian (cf. Old Norse fiska, Old High German fiscon, German fischen, Gothic fiskon), from the root of fish (n.). Related: Fished; fishing.

Plural fish fishes

  1. Any of numerous cold-blooded vertebrate animals that live in water. Fish have gills for obtaining oxygen, a lateral line for sensing pressure changes in the water, and a vertical tail. Most fish are covered with scales and have limbs in the form of fins. Fish were once classified together as a single group, but are now known to compose numerous evolutionarily distinct classes, including the bony fish, cartilaginous fish, jawless fish, lobe-finned fish, and placoderms.

In addition to the idioms beginning with fish

  • fish for
  • fishing expedition
  • fish in troubled waters
  • fish or cut bait
  • fish out
  • fish out of water, a
  • fish story

also see:

  • big fish in a small pond
  • cold fish
  • drink like a fish
  • goldfish bowl
  • kettle of fish
  • like shooting fish in a barrel
  • neither fish nor fowl
  • not the only fish in the sea
  • other fish to fry
  • smell fishy

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