When Plato gave Socrates the definition of man as “featherless bipeds,” Diogenes found and plucked a chicken and brought the poor creature into Plato's Academy, placed it on the ground and announced, “Behold! I’ve brought you a man.” Wow this story is amusing. It perfectly demonstrates a situation that I am trying my damnedest to avoid.

You see, I have a myriad of fictional worlds and most of them stretch my speculative evolutionary muscles but I’ve run into an interesting little snag. You see on many of these worlds, both human and local species regularly turn to the water such as the ocean or rivers, or lakes in order to hunt the creatures that swim in those waters for food. Now on earth, such a hunt may be categorized as fishing, which makes sense since the objects of such a hunt are usually called fish. But here’s the problem, on a few such worlds, these creatures are nowhere near what we would call fish.

No, this is stealing a book out of Plato’s book, but I’m using this to illustrate the point. In order to qualify as a fish, even on an alien planet, the creature must A) be a vertebrate or have some local equivalent to a backbone b) must have gills, or some other organ to extract oxygen from the water and c) must have some adaptation such as fins to allow it to swim. If an alien species fills all three of those criteria I can see human colonist going Eh, close enough, and labeling the creatures as a fish.

What if a creature doesn’t fit all three criteria? For an example, let’s zoom in on a creature called an Uku. Now and Uku has fins has the rough shape of a fish allowing it to swim like one it has gills, allowing it to breathe underwater, but it doesn’t have a backbone. In fact, the closest Terran equivalent to an Uku would be a sea slug.

Or how about a creature called the Kla’aang that outwardly looks like a fish but with an arthropod carapace and legs?

Or as a further example the Haasrik, it has a back bone yes, it has fins but instead of girls that has lungs. The Haasrik is descended from rabbit like creatures that were forced into the sea and the bred like…well, rabbits and out competed the local equivalent of fish.

Now here in lies the problem you can’t very well called catching these creatures fishing, as to call them a fish carries all the absurdity of calling a plucked chicken, a man. Not to mention, “what a lovely day to go Ukuing,” or “Mala, I’m going out on the lake. Have you seen my Kla’aanging spear?” or “I’ve got my Haasriking pole, and a six pack of drashyl, let’s get on that river,” never really sound right no matter how many times you try.

So here is my question.

What do you call the act of fishing on another planet for creatures that are not fish, but still the same ecological niche of fish?

Note: I have heard the term Angling that can work in some instances, but it only covers when it’s being done with with a rod and a line so saying, “hand me my angling spear” or “I’ve got my angling net ready” run into the same issues.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jan 6, 2023 at 20:02

3 Answers 3


I don't really think that this is a worldbuilding issue, but rather a question of language use in fictitious writing. To this, my answer would be: You write your story in English – so why don't you use English words?

The writing of Tolkien may be a useful model here. Despite the fact that he developed probably a dozen or so different languages for his world, he used them only sparingly in his works. Some notable exceptions are quotes represented in one of his invented languages: probably most famously, the inscription from the One Ring starting ash nazg durbatulûk from The Lord of the Rings, but very impressively also e.g. in The Silmarillion when Hurin yells aure entuluva! ("Day shall come again!") for each of the seventy members of Gothmog's troll-guard he slew before he was slain himself.

The main body of the prose in Tolkien's texts, however, is written in English, and consequently, he used English vocabulary to talk about his fantasy world. Only in those cases where there's a concept for which no English word exists did he use loanwords from his invented languages. Notable example are lembas (a particularly nourishing type of bread), mithril (a shiny, light metal), or nazgûl (an evil spirit under the influence of the One Ring). But even here, English alternatives are used in the text ("waybread" for lembas, "true-silver" for mithril, "ringwraith" for nazgûl).

I think this is a model that you could follow as well. Your story is written in English, so use English vocabulary to evoke the concepts that are familiar to your English readers. Only resort to your "foreign" invented words where there's no equivalent word. That's why you use uku, ka'aang and haasrik in the first place, because there's no English word that you could use for these species. The observation that these words don't follow conventional English orthography suggests to me as a reader that the language spoken on this planet is not English, and that these animals can't be described in English. But that observation is unrelated to the fact that the language the story is written in is English.

So use English words if an appropriate English word exists for the mental concepts you want to evoke. If the activity that involves uku and haasrik is close enough to the terrestrial mental concept of catching animals with a net or with a pole, then just use fishing because that's the word that will evoke an image of that activity in your English readers. I'd be perfectly fine with a sentence like "Mala left after lunch to see if he could fish some of the haasriks he'd spotted earlier this morning breaking the surface of the lake to catch some air". As a reader, I now know what sort of activity Mala's going to be engaged in, and that's not impaired by the fact that haasriks are apparently water-dwelling, but air-breathing animals so they're not fish.

However, if the concept of catching a haasrik isn't really comparable to the concept of catching a trout (disregarding the difference between trout and haasrik), you may want to think of a better word choice. For instance, the haasrik pole that you mention might be a tool that is very different from a fishing pole perhaps because it's rather like a spring-activated harpoon. Then, fishing would evoke an ill-fitting concept in your readers, and you'd probably prefer to use other English alternatives like shooting or hunting – and catching is available as well of course.


Casting, of course.

When people shoot for entertainment, they're not targeting or gunning; they're shooting. When people sew/knit for entertainment, they're not threading or needling; they're sewing. And when people cast for entertainment, they're not fishing or hooking; they're casting.

You can cast anything: a spear, a net, a hook on a string, whatever. You can't "angle" a spear.

This refers only to the English language, of course, but I think it's a suitable substitute.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, this is a very helpful answer. $\endgroup$ Jan 6, 2023 at 6:31
  • $\begingroup$ +1. Casting or possibly trapping; whichever best describes the mechanism(s) used. $\endgroup$
    – Qami
    Jan 6, 2023 at 16:07

A general problem, in need of a general solution.

So the settlers are on a new planet. Their new home is a shirt-sleeves environment for humans, with a native ecosphere, but of course it is not quite Earth. Lots of things to do. Cities to build, jungles to explore, mountains to strip-mine. So what do they do first?

Certainly the first act won't be to rewrite away all the physics and engineering and biology textbooks. (For all practical purposes, one liter of water is both 1,000 cubic centimeters and 1,000 grams. The difference between the freezing point and the boiling point are 100 degrees (Celsius or Kelvin). A day has 24 hours, one hour has 3,600 seconds. People are considered legally adult at approx. 568 million seconds age. Stuff like that.)

So they will come to a practical solution. A local day will have a fractional number of hours. One AU is still the nominal distance from the Sun to Earth. Plants that fill the ecological niche of grass and approximately look like grass will be called grass in common use, and also get a taxonomic name for use by scientists, or when precision is required. Once terraforming is far enough to introduce Earth grasses, either the local grasses get a qualifier like native grass or <insert planet name here>-grass or the Earth grasses get a qualifier like terrestrial grass or Earth-grass.

"Have you mowed the grass?" "Yes, dear." No qualifier needed. This is obviously about the front lawn.
"The field is covered by native grass." Clarifies that terrestrial sheep might get indigestion.
"5 kg seeds of poa arida (plains bluegrass)." Exact listing of the content of a bag.

So there are two options:

  • They come up with a name for the class, order, or family that is convenient enough for everyday use. "They're not fish, they're wigglers. I mean, look at them, it is obvious."
  • They use the label fish, with qualifiers when precision is required. "I'm going fishing." "Try to catch a terrestrial fish this time."
  • $\begingroup$ A great answer. We actually see a lot of this on even here on Earth. Shellfish, Cuttlefish, Starfish, Crayfish, Jellyfish, and Silverfish are distinctly not fish. Then you have Lungfish, Hagfish, and Blackfish which are... disputably maybe fish depending on who you ask... then just to confuse us more we have things like Seahorses that ARE fish... so, if you are fishing for cuttlefish, is it still called fishing? According to this fishing website, the answer is yes: trizily.com/cuttlefish-fishing-techniques-baits-and-tips $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jan 6, 2023 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki "Lungfish, Hagfish, and Blackfish which are... disputably maybe fish depending on who you ask" Only if you ask the deeply ignorant or tragically ill informed, (assuming by blackfish you are referring to the tautog or atlantic salmon (etc, there are multiple fish that go by that monica) and not the pilot whale etc, they and other large members of the dolphin family are called blackfish in some parts, which indisputably aren't and absolutely nobody thinks they might be) all three of those are indisputably fish, you are really not making it easy to take your opinions seriously here. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Jan 6, 2023 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Pelinore Blackfish can breath air which is a point of contest as to if they should be called true fish or not. Because the term true fish is sometimes used to distinguish lobe fish from thier water breathing cousins, blackfish as the evolutionary link make for an interesting gray zone to pedantically poke at. I'm not saying it is a popular opinion that blackfish are not true fish, but that is the point. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jan 9, 2023 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ But good job pointing out even more animals that belong on the list of things with "fish" in their name that are distinctly not fish. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jan 9, 2023 at 16:54

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