Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Kettle Of Fish

Posted by Elyse Bruce on August 4, 2010

In Captain Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue published in 1811, he defined the phrase “kettle of fish” as meaning:

When a person has perplexed his affairs in general, or any particular business, he is said to have made a fine kettle of fish of  it.

Before this, however, the phrase was very much in use by various authors.  In Salmagundi, the  1807 satirical work by Washington Irving, his brother William Irving and James Kirke Paulding we find the following:

The doctor … has employed himself … in stewing up many a woful kettle of fish.

For those who enjoy trivia,  Salmagundi is best remembered for popularizing the sobriquet Gotham for New York City which has endured over the generations through to modern times.

Joseph Andrews — or The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and of his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams — was the first full-length novel by English author and magistrate Henry Fielding.  It was published in 1742 and told the story of a good-natured footman’s adventures on the road home from London with his friend and mentor, the absent-minded parson Abraham Adams. In the novel, Fielding wrote:

Here’s a pretty kettle of fish,’ cries Mrs. Tow-wouse.

The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling also written by Fielding was published in 1749 and in that novel he wrote:

Fine doings at my house! A rare kettle of fish I have discovered at last.

The Random House and Webster dictionaries give the origin of the phrase “kettle of fish” to England in 1735 however there is no source given as to where this reference can be found.

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One Response to “Kettle Of Fish”

  1. […] NOTE:  Kettle of fish is an idiom that originated in Britain and dates back to […]

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