The verb to catfish is surprisingly a product of this decade. The term for "lure someone into an online relationship under false pretenses" was first used in the 2010 documentary Catfish, the eponymous story from the film being a metaphor comparing those relationships to the fishing practice of throwing a catfish into a vat of cod to keep the other fish more active. After the documentary, MTV started a television series, also called Catfish, and it was then that the word truly took off in its current sense. Let's trace back the fishy etymology: a catfish was so named because of its cat-like whiskers. Cat comes from Old English catt, from Proto-Germanic kattuz, from Latin cattus, which could be Afro-Asiatic. Fish is from Old English fisc, from Proto-Germanic fiskaz, from Proto-Indo-European pisk. Meanings remained constant, as these were relatively simple words and didn't have to change definition through time.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a rising junior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.