A Cod Diatribe

01 Apr 1997 Justin B Rye

I suppose you may never have noticed, but isn't it strange how many meaningless but popular words for “good/trendy” – like “brill”, “cool”, or “groovy” – are taken from the names of obscure kinds of fish?  There's hip, fab, hake, smart, dace, dab, rad (herring), smelt, keen, ace, bream, neat, gear, char, plaice, gnarly, guppy, funky, tunny… the list is endless!

Many of them of course are now hopelessly dated – nobody has used “ruddy” or “chubser” for at least a century – but there are also a few that have survived by becoming sex/drugs/rock'n'roll jargon; witness bass (guitar), roach (cannabis cigarette), sole (music), skate (‑punk), cod (‑piece), and jazz (formerly jads or shads).

You may imagine that groovy is a counter‐example, but as a matter of fact gnuibheadh is an old Gaelic word for salmon – as in “Beinn Gnuibheadh” (pronounced “ben groovy”), a mountain near Loch Rannoch, which is widely suspected of being the “Mons Graupius” of Arthurian legend.