Fish Idioms in English - Idioms - The English Digest

    You are currently here!
  • Home
  • Idioms Fish Idioms in English

Fish Idioms in English

April 12, 2024 English Comments Off

Are you hooked on learning the quirks of the English language? If so, dive into the fascinating world of “Fish Idioms in English”! Whether you’re a language learner, a seasoned linguist, or just someone who enjoys spicing up their daily conversations with colorful expressions, understanding idioms can significantly enrich your command of English. This blog post swims through the deep waters of “Fish Idioms in English,” exploring their meanings and how they reflect cultural aspects of communication.

“Fish Idioms in English” are particularly interesting because they draw from the universal experience of fishing, eating, and observing fish, activities familiar to people across the globe. From “a big fish in a small pond” to “feeling fishy,” these idioms add flavor and imagery to our language.

In this post, we’ll cast our net wide and catch the most interesting “Fish Idioms in English,” explaining their usage with practical examples that will help you understand when and how to use them effectively. Whether you’re writing an email, preparing for an English exam, or just want to impress your friends with some off-the-hook expressions, mastering these “Fish Idioms in English” will make your language skills shine. So, let’s not flounder about—dive in and let the current of creativity carry you through the ocean of English idioms!

Fish Idioms in English

1. A big fish in a small pond

Meaning: A person who is important or influential in a small group but not in a larger context.

Explanation: This idiom is used to describe someone who has a lot of influence within a limited area or group but might not have the same level of influence in a wider or more competitive environment.


  • In his hometown, John feels like a big fish in a small pond, dominating local politics effortlessly.
  • She decided to move to a bigger city, fearing she would remain a big fish in a small pond if she stayed in her small town.
  • Being a big fish in a small pond can be comforting, but it often limits professional growth.

2. A cold fish

Meaning: A person who is distant and unemotional.

Explanation: This idiom is used to describe someone who does not show their emotions easily and seems unfriendly or detached.


  • Despite his success, the CEO is known to be a cold fish, rarely engaging in small talk with his employees.
  • She didn’t mean to be a cold fish; she just had a hard time expressing her feelings.
  • If you’re perceived as a cold fish, it might be harder to build personal connections at networking events.

3. A different kettle of fish

Meaning: A completely different situation or matter.

Explanation: This idiom indicates that something is entirely different from another thing that has been mentioned.


  • I can handle short sprints, but running a marathon is a different kettle of fish.
  • Moving from graphic design to user experience design is a different kettle of fish because the skills and objectives differ significantly.
  • He found that teaching teenagers was a different kettle of fish compared to teaching young children.

4. A fish out of water

Meaning: Someone who is uncomfortable or unfamiliar with their surroundings.

Explanation: This idiom is used when someone feels out of place or not at ease in a particular situation or environment.


  • At the high-fashion party, he felt like a fish out of water, not knowing how to mingle with the celebrities.
  • Moving from a small town to a big city, she felt like a fish out of water, struggling to adapt to the fast-paced lifestyle.
  • Starting a new job in a different industry can make anyone feel like a fish out of water at first.

5. Bigger fish to fry

Meaning: More important things to deal with.

Explanation: This idiom is used to indicate that there are more significant or pressing issues to address than the one currently being considered.


  • Although the team was concerned about the typo in the report, the manager said they had bigger fish to fry with the upcoming product launch.
  • He didn’t attend the meeting as he had bigger fish to fry, focusing on closing a major sales deal.
  • We have bigger fish to fry than worrying about office decor right now, especially with the financial audit coming up.

6. Drink like a fish

Meaning: To drink alcohol excessively.

Explanation: This idiom is commonly used to describe someone who consumes a large amount of alcohol regularly.


  • Every weekend he goes out and drinks like a fish, barely remembering anything the next day.
  • At the company party, she drank like a fish and ended up needing a ride home.
  • It’s concerning how much he can drink; he really does drink like a fish at social events.

7. Fish for compliments

Meaning: To try to get compliments indirectly.

Explanation: This idiom describes someone who seeks praise and approval from others by subtly prompting or hinting at it.


  • She posted her new hairstyle on social media, not because she liked sharing but because she was fishing for compliments.
  • After the presentation, he kept asking how he did, clearly fishing for compliments.
  • He often wears his most flamboyant outfits when he feels like fishing for compliments.

8. Fish or cut bait

Meaning: To decide to take action or withdraw from the task.

Explanation: This idiom is used to urge someone to make a decision, especially after hesitation, implying that they should either proceed with an action or abandon it.


  • We’ve discussed this strategy for hours; it’s time to fish or cut bait.
  • She told her partner they needed to fish or cut bait when it came to buying the house.
  • The team needs to fish or cut bait on the project so we can allocate resources accordingly.

9. Fishy business

Meaning: Suspicious or dubious activities.

Explanation: This idiom refers to situations or actions that seem dishonest or not quite right.


  • The sudden increase in expenses at the office suggested some fishy business was going on.
  • He didn’t trust the deal—it smelled like fishy business from the start.
  • The discrepancies in the report pointed to some fishy business in the accounts department.

10. Like shooting fish in a barrel

Meaning: Very easy to do.

Explanation: This idiom is used to describe a task that is extremely easy to accomplish, implying little to no effort is required for success.


  • With his advanced skills, solving the beginner-level puzzle was like shooting fish in a barrel.
  • Winning the debate against such inexperienced opponents was like shooting fish in a barrel.
  • For her, finding errors in the code is like shooting fish in a barrel.

11. Neither fish nor fowl

Meaning: Something that does not fit into a usual category or classification.

Explanation: This idiom is used to describe something or someone that is difficult to classify or falls between two categories.


  • The new vehicle is neither fish nor fowl, not quite a car but not a motorcycle either.
  • His role in the company is neither fish nor fowl; he seems to wear many hats but fits none perfectly.
  • That movie was neither fish nor fowl, not exactly a comedy, but not really a drama either.

12. Plenty of fish in the sea

Meaning: Many potential choices in a situation, typically used after a romantic breakup.

Explanation: This idiom is often used to comfort someone who has ended a relationship, suggesting there are many other people they could date or opportunities to pursue.


  • Don’t be sad about the breakup—remember, there are plenty of fish in the sea.
  • He reassured his friend that there were plenty of fish in the sea and that he would find someone better.
  • After the failed job interview, she reminded herself that there were plenty of fish in the sea.

13. School of fish

Meaning: A large group of fish of the same species swimming together.

Explanation: This idiom is taken directly from the natural world, where fish often swim in large groups for protection and social interaction. It can also be used metaphorically to describe any large group of similar entities.


  • The divers were amazed by the beautiful school of fish that swam past them underwater.
  • In business, acting like a school of fish, moving and adapting as a group, can lead to success.
  • The children, like a school of fish, moved from one exhibit to another in the museum.

14. Slippery as a fish

Meaning: Hard to catch or pin down, either physically or metaphorically.

Explanation: This idiom describes someone or something that is difficult to grasp, understand, or keep hold of, just like a wet fish is difficult to hold onto.


  • Trying to get a straightforward answer from him is as slippery as a fish.
  • Negotiating with that vendor is like dealing with someone slippery as a fish; you never get a firm commitment.
  • She managed to evade the topic, slippery as a fish, never giving a clear opinion.

15. Swim against the current

Meaning: To go against the prevailing trends or opinions.

Explanation: This idiom refers to someone who acts in opposition to the majority or faces difficulties directly, akin to a fish swimming upstream against the flow of water.


  • He decided to swim against the current by investing in a technology that everyone else doubted.
  • Swimming against the current, she promoted eco-friendly practices in an industry that valued low costs over sustainability.
  • In his career, he often swam against the current, advocating for changes that others were hesitant to accept.

16. Swim like a fish

Meaning: To be very good at swimming.

Explanation: This idiom is used to describe someone who is extremely comfortable and adept in water, moving with ease and proficiency.


  • The new recruit can swim like a fish; she’s perfect for the swim team.
  • During their vacation, the children took to the water and swam like fish.
  • He’s been swimming like a fish ever since he was a little boy.

17. Swim with the fishes

Meaning: To be dead, especially as a result of foul play.

Explanation: This idiom, often associated with mobster movies, suggests that someone has been killed and their body disposed of in a body of water.


  • In the crime film, the traitor ended up swimming with the fishes by the movie’s end.
  • The phrase “swim with the fishes” implied a dire threat in their secret conversation.
  • After double-crossing the gang, he knew he might end up swimming with the fishes.

18. The big fish eats the little fish

Meaning: Larger, more powerful entities or people tend to take advantage of smaller, weaker ones.

Explanation: This idiom reflects the hierarchical nature of society and business, where the stronger or more influential often dominate or exploit the less powerful.


  • In the corporate world, it’s often seen that the big fish eats the little fish, with larger companies swallowing up smaller competitors.
  • The merger showed that the big fish eats the little fish, as the small start-up was completely absorbed by the giant corporation.
  • As an independent retailer, he always felt the threat of the big fish eating little fish, with major chains potentially driving him out of business.

19. There’s something fishy

Meaning: Something suspicious or not quite right.

Explanation: This idiom is often used to indicate that a situation or person’s behavior seems dubious or deceitful.


  • When the numbers in the report didn’t add up, she felt there was something fishy going on.
  • He noticed something fishy about the way the deal was rushed through without proper checks.
  • There’s something fishy about the sudden disappearance of the files; they were here yesterday.

20. Throw back the small fish

Meaning: To reject or disregard something or someone that is considered inadequate or insufficient.

Explanation: This idiom is derived from the practice of throwing small or young fish back into the water when fishing, to allow them to grow larger.


  • In the hiring process, they had to throw back the small fish to focus on more qualified candidates.
  • He decided to throw back the small fish and only pursue the most promising leads.
  • In her quest for quality, she often threw back the small fish, seeking only the best materials.

21. To fish in troubled waters

Meaning: To take advantage of troubled circumstances to gain personal benefit.

Explanation: This idiom describes the act of exploiting a situation of confusion or disorder for personal gain, similar to how it might be easier to catch fish in muddy or disturbed waters.


  • The opportunistic investor was known to fish in troubled waters, buying stocks when companies were struggling.
  • She seemed to always fish in troubled waters, making her most strategic moves during company crises.
  • Political consultants sometimes fish in troubled waters, using scandals to advance their own agendas.

22. To have other fish to fry

Meaning: To have other matters to attend to.

Explanation: This idiom is used to indicate that someone has other priorities or more important things to deal with.


  • He couldn’t join the meeting because he had other fish to fry with the upcoming product launch.
  • They appreciated the offer but declined, having other fish to fry at this critical juncture.
  • While the issue was important, the CEO had other fish to fry and delegated it to his team.

23. Wet fish

Meaning: A limp, ineffectual, and unimpressive person.

Explanation: This idiom likely derives from the unappealing or bland nature of a wet fish, used metaphorically to describe someone who lacks forcefulness or charisma.


  • His handshake was like that of a wet fish, neither firm nor confident.
  • The speaker’s delivery was as inspiring as a wet fish, leaving the audience disengaged.
  • In negotiations, he was a wet fish, often yielding too quickly to demands.

24. When the fish bites

Meaning: When an opportunity arises or when someone shows interest.

Explanation: This idiom is commonly used in situations where there is a sudden uptake or response, similar to the sudden tug on a fishing line when a fish takes the bait.


  • You need to be ready to act when the fish bites and the customer shows interest in the product.
  • The team was advised to prepare their presentations for the moment when the fish bites, indicating investor interest.
  • She kept her resume updated, ready to apply when the fish bites with a job opening in her field.

25. You can’t teach a fish to swim

Meaning: It’s unnecessary to teach someone something they already know naturally.

Explanation: This idiom is used to express the futility of teaching someone skills or knowledge they already possess inherently. Usage:

  • Telling him how to analyze data is like teaching a fish to swim; he’s been an expert for years.
  • They tried to train her in basic IT skills, but you can’t teach a fish to swim; she was already proficient.
  • Advising her on customer service was like teaching a fish to swim; she had a natural talent for dealing with clients.

Also, refer to: