catfish (n.)

also cat-fish, name given to various types of fish, 1610s, originally probably in reference to the Atlantic wolf-fish, in reference to its ferocity, from cat (n.) + fish (n.).

The North American freshwater fish was so called by 1690s, probably for its "whiskers," or for the purring noise it is said to make when taken from the water. Greek had glanis, glaneos "catfish," in reference to the only European species (the Latin silurus, in English generally sheatfish), found north of the Alps, and the largest European fish other than the sturgeon. The name is based on glanos "hyena," the fish being "thus called because of its voracity and the sound it makes" [Beekes]. Compare dogfish. The ancients thought them sensitive to thunder and able to predict earthquakes and told of catching them of such size they had to be hauled ashore by oxen.

catfish (v.)

"assume a fake persona on social media for the purpose of deceiving or attracting another person," by 2013, from the successful 2010 film "Catfish," concerning such an experience, and especially the subsequent TV show of the same name which aired from 2012 on MTV.

The film takes its title from an anecdote of fishermen putting a catfish in the tank with a shipment of live cod to keep the cod active in transit and tastier at the table. The anecdote, though attractive to sermonizers, seems to have no basis in reality. It sometimes is traced to a 1988 sermon by evangelical pastor Charles R. Swindoll, but it has been used in sermons since the 1920s and the anecdote seems to have appeared first in print in two popular publications of 1913: Henry W. Nevinson's "The Catfish," in "Essays in Rebellion," and Charles Marriott's novel "The Catfish," in which it is a symbol for a woman who keeps a man active.

The article went on to speak of the world's catfish—anything or anybody that introduced into life the 'queer, unpleasant, disturbing touch of the kingdom of Heaven.' 'Well,' thought George, amusedly, 'Mary was his Catfish. She kept his soul alive. ...' " ["The Catfish"]

Publisher's Weekly (June 7, 1913) write in its review of the novel that "The story deals with the influence which one woman may exert over one man when man and woman meet in their quickest sympathy of mind and heart and instinct." Related: Catfishing; catfished.

updated on December 05, 2022