Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a woman who speaks rudely in a loud voice

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

Fishwife is a compound noun formed from ‘fish’ and ‘wife’ (meaning a woman, not just a married woman). It was first used in English in the first half of the 16th century.


November 30 is the feast day of St Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland as well as several other places, including Greece, Russia and Barbados. The following Monday is a public holiday in Scotland. Andrew was one of the apostles, a fisherman and the brother of St Peter, the founder of the Christian church. As a fisherman it was perhaps natural that St Andrew should become the patron saint of fishermen (among other groups, including singers, fishmongers, maidens and women who want to conceive); and since a fishwife was originally a woman who sold fish, it is reasonable to assume that Andrew is their patron saint too. As with many terms referring to women, fishwife has acquired pejorative connotations that have mostly overtaken the original neutral meaning. So while the word is still used with its original meaning in stories and in references to actual female sellers of fish (mainly in the past), it is more likely to be used as a term of abuse for a woman who is regarded as brash and unmannerly, or a man who is thought to be behaving in a similar way.


“We are living at the mercy of people with the manners of a chimpanzee and the tongue of a fishwife.”
(enTenTen15 corpus)

“Andrew and Butler quarrelled like fishwives, and carried their vituperation to the White House.”
(enTenTen15 corpus)

Related words

harridan, shrew, virago

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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