Friday, August 1, 2008

Friday Fish(wife)


• fishwife •
Pronunciation: fish-wayf
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: No, even if you married a cold fish, you are not a fishwife. You are, however, if you are 1. a woman who sells fish or 2. a woman who uses coarse, vulgar language.
In Play: Back in the days of Billingsgate, women who sold fish acquired the reputation of using abusive language. I suppose smelling fish all day could have that effect on a woman. In fact, women who sell fish are not called fishwives anymore but the reputation of their name carries forward: "When I told her that her son would be working for mine someday, she turned and left, swearing like a fishwife."
Word History: The historical question raised by this Good Word is, why did female fish-peddlars have to be married? In fact, they didn't. In Old English, wif meant simply "woman". Woman, in fact, derives from Old English wifman "a woman person" (as opposed to a wæpen-man "weapon person" = a man). So, the original meaning of fishwife was simply "fish woman".
Look up "fishwife" in the dictionary and it will tell you it's a monger of fish or a shrill, shrewish woman. But there is so much more.
In London, fish mongers were also known as "The wives of Billingsgate", it is thought that they were descendants of devotees of the God, Belin who was worshipped there at one time. "They dressed in strong 'stuff'gowns and quilted petticoats; their hair, caps and bonnets were flattened into one in distinguishable mass upon their heads." They were also called 'fish fags'. "They smoked small pipes of tobacco, took snuff, drank gin and were known for their colourful language... A dictionary from 1736 defined a 'Billingsgate' as a scolding, impudent slut." You can almost imagine how they must have smelled.
Doug can be quite the nag sometimes, especially when it comes to him wanting me to do something - like, coming home for work early so we can get on the road to Goshen. Last Thursday, such was the case.
Thursday night:
Doug: "What time can you get off to leave for Goshen?"
Me: "I could work through lunch and leave at 4."
Doug: "So, you could be ready to leave at 5?"
Me: "yes."
Friday a.m. (before work)
Doug: "So, you are taking off early today."
Me: "Yes, Doug. I told you that last night."
Doug: "So, you'll be ready to leave at five."
Me: (exasperated voice) "Yes, Doug."
Just as I'm leaving...
Doug: "So, you're leaving early?"
Me: "YES, for the fifteenth time - yes, I'm leaving early- just like we talked about last night and first thing this morning."
He nags like a fishwife.
He thought I'd made up the term. Other people did, too. In yesterday's post, Stephanie said that she was "cursing like a fishwife in heat."
So I googled both an image and definition. A fishwife looks like an old time backpacker! My kind of woman! Impudent slut, indeed.

1 comment:

Liam said...

Molly Malone, famous for an Irish folk song about her, was a fish monger... and if you believe the stories a prostitute also...

Dublin is probably the only city with a statue for a hooker (and fish peddler).

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