Kettle of Fish – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to segue a conversation into a different and complex topic? If so, you could say that they are asking about a different “kettle of fish” altogether. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

The expression “kettle of fish” means another topic or subject matter that is somewhat convoluted or complex to explain.

You’ll be using this expression when someone asks you about something you know about. It’s a way of telling them that what they are asking about will take a while to explain, and you don’t have the time to unpack it for them right now.

A kettle of fish can refer to proprietary information you know about people or events. It refers to occasions where you don’t feel like getting into explaining the entire ordeal to someone at that time. A kettle of fish can also mean an awkward or messy situation and challenging to explain the details.

Example Usage

“Listen, Tom, I know you think trading stocks and forex are the same things. But they are a very different kettle of fish, and you need time in the market with both to do well.”

“I was talking to Joanne about the Sunday market, and she started going on about some other market that was here the other month. I told her that was a different kettle of fish altogether, and we’re not part of the same group.”

“That’s a completely different kettle of fish to what we’re talking about here. You’ll need to go back and read the course material to catch up.”

“Playing call of duty and going to war is not the same kettle of fish, buddy. A real live-fire situation is very different from a video game.”

“This movie is a completely different kettle of fish from what I was expecting. Let’s get out of here. I’m bored stiff.”

Origin

A fish kettle is a large steel pot used to poach fish like salmon. It was a common household item in  1700s England, and adventuresses would take them with them when touring the rivers of the United States.

The first use of the saying “kettle of fish” comes from “The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews,” written by Henry Fielding and published in 1742, where it appears as follows.

‘Here’s a pretty Kettle of Fish,’ cries Mrs. Tow-wouse.”

Thomas Newte wrote and published “A Tour in England and Scotland” in 1785, where he refers to fish kettles as follows.

“It is customary for the gentlemen who live near the Tweed to entertain their neighbours and friends with a Fete Champetre [a picnic], which they call giving ‘a kettle of fish’. Tents or marquees are pitched near the flowery banks of the river… a fire is kindled, and live salmon thrown into boiling kettles.”

Phrases Similar to Kettle of Fish

  • That’s another story.
  • A different topic.

Phrases Opposite to Kettle of Fish

  • It’s the same thing.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Kettle of fish.

Ways People May Say Kettle of Fish Incorrectly

The saying has nothing to do with fish or kettles or boiling fish. It refers to another topic that’s very different or more advanced from the current subject matter. In this case, the kettle refers to the logos of information, and the fish is the specific subject matter in question.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Kettle of Fish

You can use the saying “kettle of fish” when referring to a topic or collection of data. Typically, the data or subject will require a large explanation by the speaker to bring the other person in the conversation up to speed.

You can use the expression in social and professional conversations. You could tell a client that investing in bonds is a whole different kettle of fish compared to investing in stocks. Or you could tell your partner that learning to scuba dive is a completely different kettle of fish from learning to snorkel.

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