Drink Like a Fish (Origin)

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Drink Like a Fish"?

The term "drink like a fish" means to drink alcoholic beverages to excess.

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Drink Like a Fish (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • John is "tea total" these days, but he used to drink like fish.
  • (To be "tea total" means to abstain from alcohol.)
  • I keep fit, I work out, I eat pretty well, and I don't drink like a fish. I respect the vehicle I'm walking around in. (Musician Mick Fleetwood)
  • Drink like a fish only if you drink what a fish drinks.
  • (In the saying "drink like a fish," it is implicit that the drink is alcoholic. Therefore, this is advice to not drink like a fish.)
This idiom relates to fish seemingly gulping down water consistently. Somewhat ironically, freshwater fish do not hydrate themselves by swallowing but by absorption. What looks like drinking is, in fact, breathing. The gulping action pushes water past the gills to extract oxygen.

"To drink like a fish" has been in use since at least 1640, when it appeared in Fletcher and Shirley's "The Night-walker":
  • "Give me the bottle, I can drink like a Fish now, like an Elephant."
From a grammatical perspective, "drink like fish" is a simile (a figure of speech that likens one thing to another). It is also an example of assonance (repeated vowel sounds), which gives the saying its rhythm. This also contributes to its popularity. It might explain why "drink like a fish" caught on, but "drink like an elephant" didn't.

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.