Sunday, June 5, 2011

Huh, Fish What

I'm officially freaked out!

There's actually an entry in my Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary for "fish wife"! Covered in goosebumps, I hesitated to read it.

Certain my wife had arbitrarily invented the phrase to drive home some impromptu, improvised and incomprehensible point, not for one second did I expect to find an actual entry in a recognized dictionary!

A few years ago, I made the unthinkable faux-pas of pulling out my wallet at the cash and offering to pay for the groceries. I'm quite sure Susan's response at the time was hissed, perhaps even parseltongue! If humans are capable of hissing responses at one another, then that particular response definitely belonged under the heading of hissing. "I don't want to look like some fish wife!", she hissed.

I remember stepping back, my mind racing. Frantically, I searched my short-term and long-term memory banks, my "obscure references" file, my knowledge of  famous phrases in literature and popular television catchphrases; I quickly ran through my mental stash of Lear-like limericks and maritime folk music. To my dismay, all I managed to produce was a little black puff of smoke that, empty-handed, coughed its way from my left ear.

What the heck is a "fish wife"?

Though intimidated, I dared to inquire and was summarily dismissed. Dangerously, I persisted and from what I was able to gather, concluded it involved being offered money to pay for things while standing at the cash register in view of store employees.

Flimsy, I know, but I had nothing else.

The day before yesterday, while walking to the grocery store with Tristan, the elusive "fish wife" concept  came up. I confessed to my son that I was not entirely clear on how it worked. To make matters even more hazy, a couple of weeks ago, while standing at a cash in view of store employees, she asked me to pay! Does the disdainful "fish wife" label not apply, I wondered, if she asks me to pay for an item?

If only there were some way to enlighten myself.

The "fish wife" conversation with Tristan fairly fresh in my head, a few moments ago, I decide, on a whim, to look in the dictionary to see whether there's such a thing as a "fish wife".

Under the "fish wife" entry are two choices; definition one: a woman who sells fish; definition two: a vulgar abusive woman.

Neither definition is helping me master the mysterious intricacies of  "fish wife" etiquette, or its situational avoidance.

If you think I'm going to raise the subject of actual dictionary definitions with Susan, you're nuts! You're welcome to give it a try, but you did not hear it from me!!!

I've managed to, rather brilliantly, avoid igniting any flammable "fish wife" exchanges. If she's at the front of the grocery basket when we get to the cash, I simply stay at the back of the basket and appear to be soaking-up magazine headlines; if she's at the back of the grocery basket, I stay at the front of the basket and chat compulsively with the bagger.

So far, so good.

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