Marooned Carp, from the Rio Grande, caught in the irrigation canal and released into the ditch where it will hopefully find its way back to the river, photo © 2007 by Jim. All rights reserved.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy defines the metaphor “fish out of water” as someone who is out of his or her normal environment or range of activities.*
The Phrase Finder cites an early use by Chaucer in a version of the prologue to The Canterbury Tales —
…a monk, when he is cloisterless
Is like to a fish that is waterless
— and found the earliest reference in Samuel Purchas’ Pilgrimage, 1613:
The Arabians out of the deserts are as Fishes out of the Water.
If fish have been finding themselves out of water for almost 400 years, surely in our short lives we have each found ourselves in situations or settings where we did not belong.
Have you? Have you left your so-called “comfort zone”? If so, did you flounder and gasp for air, or did you grow legs and walk? Maybe you are in a perpetual state of being different.
We all seem to know the feeling, whether constant or fleeting, of the poor wild-eyed fish, gasping and flopping, awaiting a sure death unless whisked to familiar terrain.
Think about those times in your life. How did they feel? Did you panic? If so, don’t panic now. Breathe deeply, center yourself, then take out your pen and notebook. At the top of a page write these words, “I feel like a fish out of water when…” Then write for ten minutes. Keep your hand moving as if it were that fish, finally let free.
*The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Edited by E.D. Hirsch, Jr., Joseph F. Kett, and James Trefil. Copyright © 2002 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
NOTICE: No animals were harmed in the making of this post. In fact, one was rescued.