I teach fishing, at a local community college - recently was awarded a Master Baiter honorary certificate, and one of my students asked me "Why are fisherman called Anglers"? I floundered around for a few minutes but could not come up with a conclusive answer - help?

  • 1
    Is this a serious question? I took it as such at first, but I didn't notice the "Mater Baiter" reference.
    – Robusto
    Commented Feb 28, 2011 at 19:20
  • Serious with a smile
    – user5531
    Commented Feb 28, 2011 at 19:21
  • 3
    Fishing, when done with a rod rather than a net is called "angeln" in german. My guess is it's related.. :)
    – falstro
    Commented Feb 28, 2011 at 21:01
  • 4
    They are called anglers because they angle.
    – avpaderno
    Commented Feb 28, 2011 at 21:02
  • 1
    @Robusto: to say nothing of "floundering"...
    – PSU
    Commented Feb 28, 2011 at 23:00

6 Answers 6


There is the treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle (or Treatise of Fishing with an Angle) by Dame Juliana Berners, published in 1496 as part of the Book of St Albans.

It seems clear that angle means hook. Just be grateful that you don't teach hooking.

  • Nice...hooking, I like it:spanks for the mammaries
    – user5531
    Commented Mar 1, 2011 at 19:24

"Angling" is another term for fishing, and it goes back a long way. At least to Izaak Walton (9 August 1593 – 15 December 1683) and his famous guide.


Etymology Online states that the word "angle" in Old English meant hook. Thus an angler uses an angle.


I'll dive in and take the bait! I think we often use the word “angler” to "gender neutralize” the word “fisherman”. I, too, have wondered where the word “angler” comes from… and first thought maybe it was taken from “angle worm”… It turns out it's the other way around. “Angle worm” is an Americanism from 1825-35 – used chiefly in the northern, north midland and western U.S. that describes worms such as earthworms that are used as bait "by anglers". An angle worm is not a particular species of worm. Aporrectodea caliginosa is very common species of earthworm (a large, unpigmented species) found in gardens and agricultural fields and is sometimes referred to as “angle worms”. The moderately sized species, Lumbricus rubellus, is commonly sold as fishing bait and is often called “leaf worms” or “beaver tails” or “angle worms”. There are over 2,500 species of earthworms!

I've heard others say the word “angler” comes from the “angle” between the rod and line of a fishing rod… and I looked it up to try to confirm whether that was the case…

As defined by Random House Webster's College Dictionary:

an•glerˈæŋ glər(n.)

  1. a person who fishes with a hook and line.
  2. a person who tries to get something through scheming.
  3. any of various large-mouthed marine fishes of the family Lophiidae, having a wormlike lure dangling from the head for attracting prey.

…and Webster’s dates the origin of the word “angler” at 1545–55 A.D.

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

angle (v.1) - "to fish with a hook," mid-15c., from Old English angel (n.) "angle, hook, fishhook," related to anga "hook," from PIE *ang-/*ank- "to bend" (see angle (n.)). Cf. Old English angul, Old Norse öngull, Old High German angul, German Angel "fishhook." Figurative sense is recorded from 1580s.

"It is but a sory lyfe and an yuell to stand anglynge all day to catche a fewe fisshes." - [John Palsgrave, 1530]

The noun “angle” was derived from an Indo-European root “ank” meaning “to bend”. The word “angle” entered the language in the Old English period as “angel”, and was based on Germanic *angg- (source also of German angel ‘fishing tackle’) and was used to mean “hook for fishing”. It was spelled “angel” in Old English, but it is unrelated to the Biblical sort of “angel” (which is based on a Greek word for “messenger”). “Angle” was also was often used to refer to the rod and line as well as the hook and was in use as such until the 19th century.

The verb "angle" has been used to mean "to fish" since the late 15th century, and "angler" as meaning "one who fishes with a hook and line" has been in use since the mid-16th century.

“Ank” also is the base of the Greek "ankos" (a bend) and the English words “ankle” and "anchor."

An earlier form of the word appears to have been applied to a fishhook-shaped penninsula area of Schleswig within in the larger Jutland peninsula by its former inhabitants. Calling their homeland Angul, they came to be referred to as Angles. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Angles (Germanic peoples also referred to as the Anglo-Saxons) emigrated westward to a new island land. Both the island “country’s name, England, and the language, English, now enshrine a reminiscence of the Angles fishhooks. The ancient homeland area of the Angles encompasses the present-day Angeln (sometimes called Anglia) in the northern Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.

The “Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle” (or - Treatise of Fishing with a Hook/Hook and Line) was published as part of the second edition of “The Boke of St. Albans” in 1496. The "Treatyse" is the most complete early reference work on fly fishing… and it’s thought to have been written by Dame Juliana Berners - a nun and noblewoman. Various accounts in literature describe her as a woman of keen intellect and an accomplished practitioner and avid devotee of outdoor sports, including angling and hunting. The text includes instructions on how to make a rod, line, hooks, instructions for twelve fly patterns and the season of their optimum utility, and hints about how to catch the common varieties of British fish, and includes substantial information on fishing destinations and bait selection. Perhaps most remarkable are the essays on the virtues of conservation, respecting the rights of streamside landowners, and angler’s etiquette. These concepts would not come to be commonly accepted and advocated in the angling world until 400 years after the publication of the "Treatyse", yet today they embody the ethical bedrock of sport fishing. The "Treatyse" predates Izaak Walton’s “The Compleat Angler” (1653) by about 150 years. “The Compleat Angler” is arguably rated as the third most published book written in English, with Shakespeare’s works and the Bible being the other two.

The following is adapted from an entry on "The Word Detective" website: http://www.word-detective.com/2008/02/angler

So, it seems, the word “angler” has nothing to do with the “angle” between one’s line and rod. That’s an entirely different kind of “angle.” Unlike the archaic word “angle” meaning fish hook - this second word “angle” is still in common use today - and it means: “the relation of one line to another at their intersection”, usually measured in degrees. This noun - “angle” - in the sense of a ‘figure formed by two intersecting lines’ or a ‘projecting corner’ - as in ‘the angles of a building’ - entered the language in the 14th century (Chaucer is its first recorded user). This “angle” is derived from the Latin “angulum,” meaning “corner” or “to slant” or “bend” (“The road angles to the right.”, “The trout angled downstream.”) But - if you go back far enough in this second word’s history, you run into the same Indo-European root “ank” again! So the two “angle” nouns are related. They are still considered separate words, though, because they followed different paths into English.

I think it is of note, however, and very interesting, that some figurative uses of the word “angle” illustrate how connected these two words are in their practical use today:

  • The verb “to angle,” in an extension of its meaning “to fish,” has long been used to mean “to use subtle or devious means to obtain something,” (“Bob is angling for a promotion” or “I think Tim was angling for a compliment on his cooking.”)

  • Similarly, we use the noun “angle” as slang in hinting at something “crooked”– a “scheme” or “devious plan” (“I wonder what his angle is?) which is unlike (“I know when he’s being straight with me.”);

  • and, more innocently, as in taking one “side” or “slant” or particular “perspective” or “approach” or “aspect” or “viewpoint” - of an event, problem or subject (“I didn’t agree with the angle the reporter took with her story.” or “The accountant emphasized the tax angle of the leasing arrangement.”)

  • And we use the word to invoke the sense of an angle of attack – of “angling for an angle”, so to speak…(“Lefty’s always looking for an angle to fleece the tourists.”) Lefty's an altogether different kind of angler... ! 

  • Do you really use angler to gender-neutralise "fishermen" where you are? Do they call all fisher-men, such as those who use nets rather than angling, anglers there?
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 10:32

I have read one theory that the Germanic tribe, the Angles, were named so because they fished with poles and lines rather than with nets. Then again, maybe fishing with a pole and line is called 'angling' after the tribe that invented it?


The continental Germanic languages are said to be developed from their Indo-European ancestors in a Finno-Ugric substrate. Or, it could be said that the two language families developed in a more or less symbiotic relationship. They might even share a common ancestor but that language would be estimated to be at least 45000 years old.

Finnish has the verb "onkia" for catching fish with a rod, line, hook, and bait. I haven't studied the matter well enough to say whether that "ank" root gave us the word "onkia" or if a Finno-Ugric word developed into the Indo-European word, or if neither are related to each other but are just coincidental.

The word "angling" is also likely to be a cognate to English and England, by the Germanic tribe who angled for fish and came to conquer England.