I just recently heard this expression and couldn't quite figure out its meaning from the context, unless it means something like "take the bait."

Is this a common expression? Is it perhaps an abbreviation of another expression? Most importantly, if it is a common phrase, what does it mean?

Edit: The basic context in which I heard this expression used was this: one person asked a technical question of a group, to which a member of the group responded, beginning with "I'll do the fish" and then proceeding to the technical explanation.

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    Can't recall having heard that myself. – Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 12 '11 at 19:06
  • Can you provide a more complete context, please? – bikeboy389 Jan 12 '11 at 19:07
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    Perhaps you misheard what the speaker said? Usually in such a context, when proceeding to outline the details of a proposition someone would say "I'll do the math." – Robusto Jan 12 '11 at 19:26
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    Voting to close as "too localised". Apparently this expression was only used by one person, and wasn't understood by his audience anyway. I cannot see why this question would be relevant to anyone else, since we're presumably never going to come up against the phrase again. – FumbleFingers Sep 19 '11 at 4:21

Well, I bit the bullet and asked the guy what the heck he meant (imagine that). Turns out he was referring to the oft-quoted teach a man to fish proverb.

He also clarified that this is not a common expression, just an idiosyncratic reference he invented and uttered spontaneously.

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    That's... weird. That is probably the last thing I would have thought he was referring to! – user3444 Jan 12 '11 at 20:33
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    @ElendilTheTall: The additional context that could have made this more apparent (though it did not occur to me at the time) is that others had already offered answers which were purely factual, analogous to the "give a man a fish" scenario; the speaker used this expression to indicate that he intended to provide a more in-depth answer, explaining the background and underlying details of the subject to the person asking the question (like "teaching him to fish"). – Dan Tao Jan 12 '11 at 20:48

I can think of two possible interpretations.

The first is that it is a variation of "taking the bait", as you surmised. Specifically it reminds me of the expression "I'll bite.", which I've heard used in similar cases.

The second, which I don't think is likely, is that "doing the fish" might be a metaphor for cleaning the fish, a chore that some people find unpleasant. But that doesn't really seem to fit your example and I've never heard anyone say this.


I think that the speaker here meant 'Do the fish" to mean the same thing as 'take the bait'.

It seems as though he was going for the first part of a longer construction:

I'll do the fish and take the bait.

Wherein 'do the fish' means 'do as a fish does'. Consider the joke

make like a tree and leave.

This is applied as an order for someone to 'go away'. I wonder, would it be as easily understood if the speaker simply said

make like a tree.

I think the same structure is at work in both, with the spoken words implying the longer construction.

  • I like your reasoning here, and it sounds quite sensible. But if you look at my answer (yes, I answered my own question), you'll see that it turns out this is not what the speaker meant; in fact, he was alluding to the well-known "teach a man to fish" adage... an allusion which he himself later conceded was very unclear. – Dan Tao Apr 3 '11 at 19:29
  • Ah, so you did. That teaches me not to answer questions when I should be sleeping! – Karl Apr 3 '11 at 19:39

I would guess that it comes from the expression "fish or cut bait" -- that is, either do the work, or help the guy who who is doing the work.

protected by NVZ Apr 16 '17 at 17:06

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