Fish Out of Water – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to describe the feeling of being out of place? If so, you could say you feel “like a fish out of water” to voice your discomfort. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The expression "fish out of water" means you feel uncomfortable in your surroundings or while doing a task. For instance, you could be attending a fashionista's ball but feel like you have nothing to say to anyone, and you don't fit in with what people are wearing and talking about at the event.

Or, you could be trying to learn a new computer coding language, and you feel out of depth with your abilities on the new platform. Being "a fish out of water" means you are outside your comfort zone, and you aren't enjoying the experience.

It's a way of telling people that you wish things could go back to how they were or that you want to flee a specific location. You can use "fish out of water" to describe your behavior or that of others.

Example Usage

“I don’t know why we came here tonight. I told you that I have nothing in common with these people. I always feel like a fish out of water at these things.”

“I feel like a fish out of water right now. Everyone else is having a drink, and I have to stay sober to drive them home.”

“That guy looks like a fish out of water. He’s just standing around by himself, talking to nobody. Let’s go say hi to him.”

“This place makes me feel uncomfortable. The vibe is off, and I feel like a fish out of water around these people.”

“It’s taking me a while to adjust to the team and processes at my new job. I feel a bit like a fish out of water at the moment, but everyone’s been so nice and helpful.”

“When we moved to the city, I felt like a fish out of water. After spending so long on the farm, the noise, the hustle, and bustle, it was overwhelming at first.”


The origin of the expression "fish out of water" goes back to 1383. English author, Geoffrey Chaucer, used the first iteration of the saying in his work, "The Canterbury Tales," published in 1392. The book contains a story where a character in the story feels uncomfortable riding his horse.

"Shipman: a huge man, uncouth; a master of vessel and knew all the ports; not ride well; like a fish out of water as sat on his horse."

The phrase hasn't changed in nearly a millennia, and it continues to be a common idiom used in modern language.

Phrases Similar to Fish out of Water

  • Square peg in a round hole.
  • Out of step.

Phrases Opposite to Fish out of Water

  • One of the herd.
  • Brick in the wall.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Fish out of water.

Ways People May Say Fish out of Water Incorrectly

Using the phrase to describe fish or water is incorrect. The "fish" in the saying is you, and being out of the water means that you're gasping for air, and you feel like you're dying. It's a way of saying you feel uncomfortable and away from your natural environment.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Fish out of Water

You can use "fish out of water" to describe occasions where you feel out of place at an event or gathering. It also suits use in situations where you feel out of your depth with a task and you don't know what you're doing.

The phrase suits social and professional use. At work, you can use it to describe how you feel like "a fish out of water" when operating the new CRM system. You could use it in social situations where you're around a new group of people and don't have anything in common with them or their conversation.

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