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Shooting fish in a barrel

  • The expression shooting fish in a barrel is an idiom with an unknown origin. An idiom is a word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the idiom shooting fish in a barrel, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.


     

    Shooting fish in a barrel is an idiom that describes something extremely easy to accomplish, something with one hundred percent chance of success. The image is a wooden barrel crammed full of live fish so that a gunshot anywhere in the barrel will hit at least one fish, probably many more. The expression shooting fish in a barrel came into use in the United States sometime around the turn of the twentieth century. Shooting fish in barrels was not an actual practice. The phrase is often rendered as a simile: like shooting fish in a barrel. A simile is a phrase used in a sentence that is a comparison of one thing with something else using the word like or the word as.

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    Examples

    I pulled into the supply area and talked to a guy in the tower and he said the enemy came up that drainage ditch and it was like shooting fish in a barrel and there was half a body laying there. (The Examiner Enterprise)

    OK, this is like shooting fish in a barrel: A Lada Samara is of course going to appear on the worst cars list of any road tester who’s driven one. (Motortrend Magazine)

    Trying to predict the long-range summer weather is not exactly “shooting fish in a barrel.” (Martha’s Vineyard Times)


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