Meaning of a British phrase

I was reading one of Jo Bannister’s earlier novels. She used the phrase fishwife laughter. Not sure what that means and the background of the phrase. Anyone have an explanation? Anyone seen this used in writing?



From my Apple dictionary:

fishwife |ˈfi sh ˌwīf|
noun ( pl. -wives |-ˌwīvz|)
1 a coarse-mannered woman who is prone to shouting.
2 archaic a woman who sells fish.

Compare to fishmonger, a person or store that sells fish for food.

The OED (2nd ed., 1989) cites instances of fishwife from 1523 to 1867.
It’s probably fallen out of use since then, except in Portland and Stockport. :unamused:

we dont have any vulgar women in Stockport, unfortunately. Chance d be a fine thing. :frowning:

So, given the “definition”, is it much used in British literature? I have been reading British novels off and on for 20 years, but had never run across it prior to this book.

The Baby-Boomer generation, are probably the last generation that would be vaguely familiar with it, enough to consider using it, if at all. Their parents, probably more so. Im not aware of it being in over-common usage in my lifetime, and Im 63. There are more common used monikers for loud-mouthed ,crude women. See If this is any use:
Hope that helps.
Take care

I’m definitely a baby boomer and have heard the term ‘fishwife’ quite a bit, in the manner given here but maybe with a bit more added. Brings up an image of a shrewish, shrieking kind of woman, a definite nagger (a wife who always bugs her husband about his failings, what he’s not doing, not doing right). Basically not a fun person to be with! So fishwife laughter I’d imagine as being loud, with a vulgar kind of abandon! Probably not a pleasant sound at all! :open_mouth:

I think the word ‘fishwife’ is commonly understood, but the phrase ‘fishwife laughter’ isn’t something I’d ever heard before. I definitely wouldn’t say it’s in common usage in Britain.

Thanks, everyone. Yes, I am on the leading edge of the boomers, but on the other side of the pond. :slight_smile:

I appreciate the help. I had a general sense of it from the context, but it now makes better sense.

“Bring me my brown pants!”

As to Fishwife. Nope never heard it, never seen it in print but it sounds like an old slang term and maybe is used more widely in some general geographical area?

For example here in the Deep south a term i have heard frequently used to describe a very young age is

“… since I was knee-high to a grass hopper…”

which I haven’t seen in print but I do hear it rather frequently.

Another famous “southern saying” is

“Fixin’ to”

“I’m fixin’ to take out the trash.”
“I’m fixin’ to run up to the store.”
“I’m fixin’ to go to sleep.”

On and on it is used but I have yet to see it in print.

So maybe it is an old term that started out as a regional slang and a long time ago was widely used and therefore it may have been picked up by the author…

A modern day usage could be “slappers squawking.”
Or pikeys cackling.

The explanations are on the web.


I think wock is reading all the wrong books.

“Fixing to” appears in just about every book I read set in the south. Mr. Clemens uses it, Nicholas Sparks, Elmer Kelton I have just checked. It is almost always in dialog and may or may not have the trailing g.

Wait, I think I know why you haven’t seen it. You don’t have thumbs so you can’t actually open the book to read.

Cormack McCarthy uses the phrase ‘fixin’ to’ all the time, since a lot of his stories are set in Texas and/or the mexican border. He’s the guy who wrote No Country for Old Men (and the secondary protagonist Llewynn uses ‘fixin’ to’ a fair bit in that novel), but also the Texan soldiers in Blood Meridian use the phrase a lot…I guess it’s got a long history in the south.

Since I live in the south I don’t much read books based in the South.

Pop up books. Picture books. Speak and Spells. Things with many buttons and lights. Flammable liquids. Animals. Exploding Rabid Sheep. The Dog Whisperer. Star Wars. And other things that do not require the use of an opposing thumb. :stuck_out_tongue:

I’ve heard ‘fishwife’ quite a bit, but I’m from the Midwest originally (Ohio) and have British/Scottish ancestry (among others), so perhaps it’s something I picked up in my region or my family.

Lived down south for a long while, ‘fixin’ to’ is definitely something I heard when living there, along with ‘y’all’ and a few other language goodies. Definitely seen all of these in print. I’ll bet even ‘knee-high to a grasshopper’ can be found somewhere, in someone’s book! It’s very common. Along with ‘that dog won’t hunt,’ ‘I’m a yellow-dog Democrat’ (would rather vote for a yellow dog than someone not a Democrat), and all the rest of the colloquialisms that I learned while living down there. (I even picked up a drawl according to my friends–long since lost since I’ve been back up north!)


That`s probably where you perfected the art of ‘Mooning’ :blush:

Now, Vic, I was very clear with your good friend LD that I have never, ever mooned anyone. North, south, doesn’t matter. And the one mooning incident I did see was in Cleveland, Ohio, very much a northern state (it was of course in summer. Winters there are quite cold–way to cold to engage in anything requiring the removal of clothing! :open_mouth: ).

I just luv it when y` ‘kick ass’…I luv it I luv it!! :smiling_imp: yeahh! mama!

Some of my favorite phrases are

“Bird dog it.”

“Like butter.”

“Duct Tape It” or “hundred mile in hour tape” as the guys on Bragg call it.


“Butter Grits an Bisquits”

“Tea so sweet you grow fur on your teeth.”

“Dropped faster than a G string in a strip club”

and some funny slang and cliches I have heard lately are

“Barney brought the po po” (Cops are coming)

“Talk more trash than the sanitation department”

“Hoodwinked and fiddled silly”

“So damn sexy she would make your eyes water, ear drums pop, and your teeth fall out.”

“Slap it silly, Punch me drunkly”

“BBQ Artard”

“Bow up like a super hero”


PS: Mooning can be dangerous in the south. Ever heard the phrase “shoot the moon”. :slight_smile:

at least y` good for something! :laughing: :laughing: :laughing: :laughing: :laughing: :laughing: :laughing: :laughing:

Eight Fishwives laughing,
Seven Slappers squawking,
Six Pikeys cackling,