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What does "If wishes were fishes we'd all swim in riches" mean?

This phrase doesn't make any sense to me though I do understand the point it's making. But by the logic of the phrase, if a wish = a fish, why would we all just be swimming with the fishes?

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Logically, it doesn't make any sense, though. It doesn't follow that if wishes were fish, the oceans would be riches—or that we’d be swimming anywhere if we made a fish every time we made a wish. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 24 at 8:06
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“If wishes were fishes, we'd all cast nets.” --― Frank Herbert, The Dune Storybook goodreads.com/quotes/… Also, If wishes were fishes and cattle were kings, the world would be full of wonderful things "According to my source, Wordsworth Dictionary of Proverbs, pg 637, it really goes back further to, If wishes were thrushes beggers would eat birds. That was in 1605, ..." doctoroz.com/blog/bill-larson/if-wishes-were-fishes –  Kris Jul 24 at 8:38
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"if wishes were fishes, we'd all cast nets." makes sense to me. It's the reference to swimming in riches that throws me off. "if wishes were instantly granted, we'd all swim in riches" makes sense, but if a 'wish' were transformed to a fish, why the hell would WE be swimming... you're right, we'd be casting! –  noobynoobnoob Jul 24 at 9:01
    
Huh? Of course it makes sense. "swimming in riches" is a general phrases to mean "be rich". The fact that fish (in the first clause) literally "swim", is the clever play. –  Joe Blow Jul 24 at 11:55
    
Well, fish do have a monetary value. –  DrewS Jul 24 at 13:26

4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

If wishes were fishes: used to express the impossibility to make a wish come true.

It appears it comes from and is a variant of:

It actually comes or was borrowed from the not so commonly used, original nursery rhyme from Scotland:

If wishes were horses then beggars would ride,

If turnips were swords I’d have one by my side.

If ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’ were pots and pans

There would be no need for tinker’s hands!

Source: http://www.doctoroz.com/blog/bill-larson/if-wishes-were-fishes

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If think it's "ifs and ans" - an being an archaic synonym for if. "Ands" makes no sense here. –  James McLeod Jul 24 at 10:04

This is (of course) a Scottish saying: basically the point is wishes are useless. It's that simple.

It's one of those interesting phrases where there are very many versions of the phrase. They all start with "If wishes were fishes..." And indeed, the best version is to just say "If wishes were fishes..." and leave it at that.

Anyone who grows up Scottish is constantly told, "I cried when I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet" and "If wishes were fishes..." and other gems like "shut up and work harder," possibly with coarser language.

As you can see, the overwhelming point is "shut up and work." "If wishes were fishes" is an admonishment your Scottish grandmother screams at you, if you are lazy. That is, if you sit around saying things like "if only I'd gotten a degree" or "if only pizza was cheaper", your grandmother will scream at you "If wishes were fishes, laddie — now get up off your backside."

"This phrase doesn't make any sense to me" -- you're referring to the version "If wishes were fishes we'd all swim in riches"

It couldn't be clearer. The second phrase "we'd all swim in riches" means "We'd all be rich". Right?

The first phrase "If wishes were fishes" means if magic was real, if wishes were real, if prayers were always answered, if hope was worth anything. (Fish are plenty and real.)

The expression is used to express the pointless futility of wishing for something. It's simply saying: "if idiotic wishes/prayers/dreams/hopes were real, we'd all be rich. So, shut up and start moving your hands so that you are cleaning the floor."

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It means that there are a lot of fish about and it isn't hard to catch one. So if wishes were as common as fishes, everyone would have a considerable amount of wishes and would presumably be as rich as they liked.

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\Alissa George – Blogger initiate I looked up "If wishes were fishes, then all dreams would come true,” and this is the second site I’ve landed on. I've heard this phrase from my mother who heard it from her father who was Scott's-Irish and I don't see her phrase here: I understood it to be: "God helps those who help themselves" and an admonishment say, to a child, to not just be wishing and languishing and day-dreaming, but to set specific goals to achieve those wishes & dreams. There was always the hope that those dreams would come true – as some do! Also, to not expect everything that you “wish for” arbitrarily to come true or everything you wish for to become a reality, on a whim. Start working toward SPECIFIC concrete goals and back them up with step by step action. There are a lot of fish in the sea and you have to set your sights on a few and go for those specific dreams, or fish as it were!

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