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I came across the phrase, “shooting trout in a demitasse cup” in the New York Times’ columnist, Maureen Dawd’s article titled Coffee Cups in Hell. Incidentally, I as a non-native English speaker often feel her writing style studded with novel and cool phrases difficult to comprehend.

Though I guess this phrase means ‘100% certain' (Please correct me if I wrong), is this an established expression? I wonder if she deliberately used this phrase in association with Mormons’ shunning caffeine.

The phrase is used in the following context:

They (Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Robert Lopez) pushed the limits at Comedy Central when they put the Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit. But as Terry Teachout wrote in The Wall Street Journal: “Making fun of Mormons in front of a Broadway crowd is like “shooting trout in a demitasse cup.” ... If the title of this show were ‘The Quran,’ it wouldn’t have opened.

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From this and other questions, I feel I should point out that native English speakers often find Maureen Dowd's writing studded with strange phrases difficult to comprehend (and often not worth the effort), –  TimLymington Dec 17 '11 at 16:04
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1 Answer

up vote 10 down vote accepted

It comes from “shooting fish in a barrel”, which means “extremely easy”, as it is supposedly hard to miss a target in this restricted space. So, your expression is not an established idiom, but is built from this rather common phrase by replacing the barrel with the much smaller demitasse (which is a small coffee cup). So it is built to mean “even easier than shooting fish in a barrel”, with an added coffee connotation as you noted in your question.

As an aside, the Mythbusters have tested and validated the easiness of shooting fish in a a barrel. As another aside, French has a related idiom to mean “miss something trivial” which is “to miss an elephant in a corridor”.

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I really enjoyed watching youtube footage for outrageous demonstration of easiness to shoot a fish in barrel. I almost split my sides with laughter. –  Yoichi Oishi Mar 27 '11 at 9:16
    
@Yoichi This -- taking an established idiom or saying and constructing variations -- is used quite often in English. I like to refer to "with a grain of salt" (the well-known phrase), and its malleability: depending on how doubtful a mention bit of data is, you can recommend "a spoonful of salt" all up to "a sixty-car freight train full of salt". Or any other imaginative measurement. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Feb 18 '12 at 23:13
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