Word of the Week

Week twenty-nine: FINNACK (probability 28421), by David Sutton

A FINNACK is a name for a young seatrout; it has variants FINNAC, FINNOCK and PHINNOCK. The word comes from the Gaelic fionnag, from fionn, white, the same word that is found in the name of the Irish hero Finn Mac Cumhail. There is no connection with FINNAN or FINDRAM, a kind of peat-smoked haddock, which probably takes its name from the town of Findon in Kincardineshire.

Another name for a young seatrout is HERLING or HIRLING; this is a dialect word of unknown origin.

And while on the subject of special words for the young of fish (other than salmon, which I have already covered), we have SCROD or SCHROD for the young of the cod or haddock, probably deriving from a Dutch word schroode. Then there is BRIT or BRITT, a young herring, sprat or other fish, of unknown etymology, and MATTIE, which refers specifically to a young herring with undeveloped roe. This latter is from the same root as MATJES or MAATJES, a culinary term for a young herring cured in brine, sugar and spices and served as a hors d'oeuvre. The word ultimately goes back through Dutch to Low German mädeken, maiden.

Finally, let us not forget the COALFISH. The young of this is known as a PODLEY or SILLOCK. PODLEY is a form of POLLACK, while SILLOCK relates to the Old Norse silungr, a young salmon. A young coalfish can also be known as a CUDDIE, CUDDY, CUDDEN or CUDDIN, all from the Gaelic cudainn.

When you consider that the COALFISH itself can also be known as COLEY, SAITHE or (in the US) POLLACK or POLLOCK, that gives us, counting plurals, twenty-one different words relating to one rather obscure fish. I find this wonderfully symptomatic of the richness of our lexicon.


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