A fish out of water meaning
As far as English idioms go, this one is quite easy to interpret. Fish like water, fish live in water, fish need to be in the water to live. Most people would correctly assume that the idiom a fish out of water meaning has something to do with being in the wrong place and it isn’t a good thing.
Interestingly, Italians use the idiom the same way whereas Spanish and German speakers prefer to use the opposite phrase of a fish in water to describe something comfortable or where it belongs.
In English, a fish out of water does have some slight variations in its usage and definition depending on situations that people find themselves in.
A fish out of water meanings include –
To feel out of place or like you don’t belong.
To feel restless or uncomfortable.
To be awkward because you don’t have the skills to do something.
To be in a strange or unfamiliar environment.
To feel confused.
It is quite a useful idiom in that everyone has these feelings at some time or another and are able to liken themselves to a flapping fish on dry dirt.
A fish out of water example sentences
When he arrived in Tokyo he couldn’t understand a word anyone said, he felt completely like a fish out of water.
She was a fish out of water when she started working at the restaurant and couldn’t cook anything on the menu.
She felt like a fish out of water at the party, everyone was dancing and enjoying the music which she hated.
When the boy moved to a new school he had no friends and felt like a fish out of water.
He looked like a fish out of water when he tried to play football for the first time.
History of the fish out of water idiom
This idiom is very old and was recorded in literary work over 600 years ago! The English author Geoffrey Chaucer used it in his classic work “The Canterbury Tales” that was penned way back in 1483. In his writing, Chaucer used the fish out of water idiom to describe a sailor who did not know how to ride a horse well. The sailor was therefore in a strange situation he was not accustomed to or comfortable with – this same fish out of water meaning is used to this day.
Later on in 1614, Samuel Purcha published a book in which he used the idiom. In his novel “Purcha’s His Pilgrimage”, he described Arabians outside of the desert “as fishes out of the water”. Again it was used to describe people in as unfamiliar environment, just like it is today.
Idioms with a similar meaning to fish out of water
A square peg in a round hole is someone who doesn’t fit in or belong in a place or situation.
A person who is all fingers and thumbs is awkward, very clumsy, or doesn’t know how to do something with their hands.
If a person doesn’t understand something at all they might say, “It is all Greek to me” to express their confusion.