Join BookBrowse today and get access to free books, our twice monthly digital magazine, and more.

Why do we say "A Fish Out of Water"?

Well-Known Expressions

A Fish Out of Water

Meaning:

Someone who is uncomfortable in an unfamiliar situation

Background:

This expression dates back to at least the 14th century, given that it can be found in the general prologue to Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, written between 1387 and 1400.

The rule of Maurus or Saint Benedict,
By reason it was somewhat old and strict,
This same monk let such old things slowly pace
And followed new-world manners in their place.
He gave for that text not a plucked hen
Which holds that hunters are not holy men;
Nor that a monk, when he is cloisterless,
Is like unto a fish that's waterless;
That is to say, a monk out of his cloister.
But this same text he held not worth an oyster;...

(translation courtesy of librarius.com)

A similar sentiment is found in other languages but expressed differently. For example, speakinglatino.com offers Como sapo de otro pozo (like a toad from another well) and como cucaracha en baile de gallinas (like a cockroach in a chicken dance).

More expressions and their source

Challenge yourself with BookBrowse Wordplays

Support BookBrowse

Join our inner reading circle, go ad-free and get way more!

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Song of the Six Realms
    Song of the Six Realms
    by Judy I. Lin
    Xue'er has no place in the kingdom of Qi or any of the Six Realms. Her name means "Solitary Snow" ...
  • Book Jacket: The Demon of Unrest
    The Demon of Unrest
    by Erik Larson
    In the aftermath of the 1860 presidential election, the divided United States began to collapse as ...
  • Book Jacket: Daughters of Shandong
    Daughters of Shandong
    by Eve J. Chung
    Daughters of Shandong is the debut novel of Eve J. Chung, a human rights lawyer living in New York. ...
  • Book Jacket: Anita de Monte Laughs Last
    Anita de Monte Laughs Last
    by Xochitl Gonzalez
    Brooklyn-based novelist Xochitl Gonzalez is an inspiring writer to follow. At forty, she decided to ...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
Romantic Comedy
by Curtis Sittenfeld
A comedy writer's stance on love shifts when a pop star challenges her assumptions in this witty and touching novel.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    This Strange Eventful History
    by Claire Messud

    An immersive, masterful story of a family born on the wrong side of history.

  • Book Jacket

    The Stolen Child
    by Ann Hood

    An unlikely duo ventures through France and Italy to solve the mystery of a child’s fate.

Win This Book
Win Only the Brave

Only the Brave by Danielle Steel

A powerful, sweeping historical novel about a courageous woman in World War II Germany.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

F T a T

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.