The French have a remarkable locution respecting fish as a food:
Aprés poisson, lait est poison; Aprés poisson, le vin est bon; Aprés poisson, noix est contre-poison.
The reason why fish are employed as card-counters is from a misapprehension of the French word fiche (a five-sou piece). The two points allowed for the “rub” are called in French la fiche de consolation. The Spanish word pez has also a double meaning—a “winning,” or a “fish;” pez is the Welsh pysg, Latin pisc', English fish.
A loose fish. One of loose or dissolute habits. Fish implying a human being is derogatory, but bird is a loving term, as my “bonny bird,” etc. Beast is most reproachful, as “You are a beast.”
A pretty kettle of fish.(See Kittle.)
A queer fish. An eccentric person. (See above, Loose Fish.) All is fish that comes to my net. “Auri bonus est odor ex re qualibet.” I am willing to deal in anything out of which I can make a profit. I turn everything to some use.
“Al is fishe that cometh to the net.” —G. Gascoigne: The Steele Glas (died 1577).
He eats no fish; he is not a papist; he is an honest man, and one to be trusted. In the reign of Elizabeth papists were opposed to the Government, and Protestants, to show their loyalty, refused to eat fish on Fridays to show they were not papists.
“I do profess ... to serve him truly and to eat no fish.” —Shakespeare: King Lear, i. 4.
I have other fish to fry; “J'ai bien d'autres affaires on tête;” “Aliud mihi est agendum;” I am busy and cannot attend to [that] now; I have other matters to attend to.
Mute as a fish. Fish have no language like birds, beasts, and insects. Their utmost power of sound is a feeble cry of pain, the result of intestinal respiration. The French also say “mute comme un poisson.”
The best fish smell when they are three days old “l'hôte et le poisson puent passé trois jours.” “Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbour's house, lest he get weary of thee, and so hate thee” (Prov. xxv. 17). “Don't outstay your welcome.”
The best fish swim near the bottom. “Le meilleur poisson nage pr&etrave;s du fond. ” What is most commercially valuable is not to be found on the surface of the earth, nor is anything else really valuable to be obtained without trouble. “Il faut casser le noyau pour en avoir l'amande, ” for “Nil sine magno vita labore dedit mortalibus.”
It is neither fish, flesh, nor fowl, or Neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring. Not fish (food for the monk), not flesh (food for the people generally), nor yet red herring (food for paupers). Suitable to no class of people, fit for neither one thing nor another.
Fish comes first because in the Middle Ages the clergy took precedence of the laity.
“She would be a betwixt-and-between ... neither fish nor fowl.”
—Mrs. Lynn Linton.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894