Re: NANFA-- Fish Folklore/ language history

Christopher Scharpf (
Thu, 08 Nov 2001 10:57:45 -0400

> There have been reports of them estivating. Chou-pique ( Pronounced shoe -
> pick ) is french for cabbage pike ( pike fish that lives in cabbage weeds),
> though it is convenient that it sounded similar to the dialect of the local
> Indians.

Actually, this isn't entirely true. Choupique comes from the Choctaw word
shupik, meaning mudfish (another name for bowfin). Choupique is simply a
Cajun spelling of shupik. It's a delightful coincidence that cabbake pike is
a French-to-English translation of choupique. My source for this information
is Mathews, 1951, _A Dictionary of Americanisms_.

I've made a hobby of collecting alternative bowfin names and tracing their
etymological roots. Here's what I've found so far:

dogfish -- inspired by the bowfin's large canine teeth.

mudfish -- inspired by its ability to survive lengthy periods in the mud of
drying swamps and lakes

shoepike -- Choctaw for mudfish

choupoqie -- Cajun for shoepike

cabbage pike -- literal French-to-English translation of choupique

cypress trout -- refers to the cypress swamps where bowfin sometimes

buglemouth -- may be a variation of "bullmouth" (bugle once commonly meant
buffalo or young bull)

cotton fish-- derives from the opinion that eating cold or improperly
cooked bowfin is like having a ball of cotton in one's mouth.

speckled cat, blackfish and spot-tail -- all descriptive: bowfin can be
variably speckled and blackish, and adult males have a spot, called an
eyespot or ocellus, on the tail.

scaled ling -- refers to the bowfin's cursory resemblance to the lingcod, or

beaverfish -- seen from above in turbid waters, a swimming adult bowfin may
resemble a swimming beaver

poisson-castor -- French for beaverfish

brindle -- also descriptive; it's usually used to describe dogs and cows
that are streaked or spotted with a darker color, especially yellow-brown.

grindle -- whether brindle led to grindle, grindle to brindle, or whether
the two names are independently derived, is not clear. The spelling
"grindal" was used as far back as 1709, when English botanist John Lawson
encountered the "soft sorry fish" during his explorations of North and South
Carolina. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), grindle and its
various spellings are from the German gründel, meaning ground or bottom.
There are several other derivations of grindle that could apply to the fish:
grindel, an obsolete British word for a narrow ditch or drain; grindel, an
Old Norse word meaning fierce or angry; and grindle-tail, a breed of dog in
1600s England.

John A. Grindle -- The _Dictionary of Americanisms_ notes that Virginians
gave the bowfin this "dignified" name.

German bass -- may be a reference to grindle's Germanic provenance.

lawyer and lake lawyer -- these have me stumped. The OED dates the names
from at least 1850 and says they are "jocular" allusions to the fish's
"voracity." A similar explanation is given in Blatchley's _Fishes of
Indiana_ (1938): "...the alleged reason for the application of the name
'Lawyer' is that it will bite at anything and is good for nothing when
caught. Another party states that these onery customers are called Lawyers
because they are bull-headed and slippery." (Apparently, lawyer bashing goes
way back!) However, one unverified and perhaps apocryphal explanation traces
the name to an 18th-century Indiana lawyer named John A. Grindle who, so the
story goes, was inordinately fond of fishing. The _Dictionary of
Americanisms_ notes that Virginians gave the bowfin the "dignified name" of
John A. Grindle

BTW, burbot are also called lawyer. So is a bird, the black-necked stilt
(Himantopus nigricollis), supposedly because of its "long bill"! (Get it?

Any others?

Chris Scharpf

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