From Salman Rushdie "Shame"

A fish seeks, in a fishhook, a kind of confidence, the hook communicating its inevitability to fish-lips. Angling is a battle of wits; the thoughts of the fishermen pass down rods and lines, and are divined by finny creatures. Who, on this occasion, found haunted waters easier to stomach than the ugly descending thoughts.

Please help me understand what the word divine means here.

  1. Does it mean fish try to guess what fisherman thinks.
  2. Or it means fish are trying to find those thoughts and stick to them. (like searching in with divining rod)
  3. Or anything else?
  • 2
    The fish can tell what the fisherman is thinking. Commented Mar 22, 2020 at 16:44
  • 2
    Yes, divined here is a colorful word for guessed, or understood by mystical means. Commented Mar 22, 2020 at 16:45
  • 1
    It's anthropomorphism (the fish thinking like human antagonists) and beyond (divining involves the supernatural: mind-reading). Commented Mar 22, 2020 at 16:54

2 Answers 2


From etymonline:

divination (n.)

late 14c., divinacioun, "act of foretelling by supernatural or magical means the future, or discovering what is hidden or obscure," from Old French divination (13c.), from Latin divinationem (nominative divinatio) "the power of foreseeing, prediction," noun of action from past-participle stem of divinare, literally "to be inspired by a god," from divinus "of a god," from divus "a god," related to deus "god, deity" (from PIE root *dyeu- "to shine," in derivatives "sky, heaven, god").

That is to say, in the context given by OP, to be told by a god the thoughts of the fisherman. By extension, any information apparently received by inspiration--maybe no god was implicated in this case, but definitely something is beyond a natural explanation. This is quite different than to guess, which is "to infer from observation, perceive, find out; form an opinion, judge, decide, discern; evaluate, estimate..." and does not necessarily require any supernatural intervention.


The divining rod metaphor is the right direction. When someone uses a divining rod, what they're searching for pulls down on the rod, much like a fish on the line will pull down on the fishing rod.

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