Translatable but Debatable - Fish, Crawfish, Frogs, and Cows

Haaretz quotes Dr. Linda Efroni regarding the Prime Minister:  “Netanyahu tried to do battle against the elites, and they showed him `where the fish pisses from,' so he understood that if he wanted to be prime minister he would have to do well by the elites.”

In a list of Hebrew expressions that have had their day and should be retired from the language, a blog or blogger named Areshet mentions מאיפה משתין הדג, “where the fish pisses from.”  Areshet says, “That’s enough.  We get it.  We’ve had it up to here.  We appreciate the earthy humor, now let’s move on.”  But that blog page is four years old and the fish haven’t stopped.

As the Atlantis aquarium company notes (and who should know better than they?), the phrase in Hebrew often comes as a threat:  “I’ll show him where the fish pisses from,” meaning “I’ll teach him a thing or two,” or “I’ll show him what’s what,” or “I’ll set him straight.”  If you often feel that way, it seems you can — or at least at one time you could — order a Hebrew “We’ll show you where the fish pisses from” tee shirt in any of eight colors.

According to Rubik Rosenthal, the expression came to us with the immigration from Morocco, where people say — in Rubik’s transliteration —

הוֹרִית לוֹ מִנָאיִן תָאייבּוּל אַלְח'וּת

(horit lo minayin teibul alhut).  But Rubik doesn’t pin the origin down to anything more specific than Morocco.

A Hebrew Facebook page called “In Russian There’s a Saying” quotes a non-kosher equivalent:  “I’ll show him where the crawfish spend the winter,” which is to say “He’d better watch out for me.”  In Facebook’s Hebrew transliteration, it’s

יָא יֶמוּ פָּקָז'וּ גְדְיֵה רָאקִי זִימוּיוּט

(Ya emu pakazhu gdye raki zimuyut).

And my colleague Vlada Goldin tells me that in the original Russian, that would be

Я покажу ему, где раки зимуют

Thanks to Vlada also for identifying the animal as the crawfish.  (Facebook said סרטנים, which is crabs.)

German has its own version and, like the Hebrew, it’s popular enough for a tee shirt:  “wo der Frosch die Locken hat,” meaning “where the frog has curls.”  (The tee shirt is actually a humorously literal translation into English.)  The origin of the German expression seems to be unknown, but a comic television character named Atze Schröder has enhanced its popularity.

I don’t think I ever encountered an English-language equivalent to the fish, crawfish, and frog until I saw a videoclip of Mike Huckabee, former governer of Arkansas, interviewed on Fox News by Megyn Kelly.  He was discussing President Obama’s intention to build a coalition against the Islamic State terrorists.

Huckabee:  If you're gonna build that coalition, you're gonna have to come off the golf course, get away from the fundraisers, and do the job.  And that means you're gonna have to be on the phone, you may have to get on a plane, and look some of these guys in the eye and explain to them how the cow eats the cabbage, as we like to say down south. 

Kelly:  I don't know what that means, but it sounds profound.  I'm gonna Google that...

So I Googled it too and I found that according to the Cliché Site, it describes “when a person is being direct with another person whether they like it or not.”

Maybe the line about the cow doesn’t carry the threat of violence that the line about the fish sometimes does.  (“I drive around with a steel pipe, ready in a second to ‘explain’ to low-lifes, as we say in hebrew, ‘Where the fish pisses from,’” writes JSolberg on a Xanga site.)

Or on the other hand, maybe it does carry a threat.  According to Word Detective, “’To tell someone how the cow ate the cabbage’ means to tell the person the unvarnished truth, even if the person would rather not hear it. It can also mean to state one’s opinion forcefully or to ‘tell someone off.’” 

But then Word Detective goes on to say:

“How the cow ate the cabbage” is a folk saying of the southern US, most often heard in Texas and Arkansas, and probably dates back to at least the 1940s. It comes from the punchline to a joke that would, in that period, have been considered at least slightly “off-color.” Here goes:

A circus had arrived in a small town, and one morning one of the elephants managed to escape. The fugitive pachyderm made its way to the backyard garden of an elderly (and very near-sighted) woman, where it began hungrily uprooting her cabbages with its trunk and eating them. Alarmed by the apparition in her garden, the woman called the police, saying, “Sheriff, there’s a big cow in my garden pulling up my cabbages with its tail!” “What’s the cow doing with them?” he asked, to which the woman replied, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you!”

Hey, I never said the joke was actually funny. 

I can imagine the connotation of a threat — if indeed the expression has anything to do with the joke.  But back to the fish and the helpful people of the Atlantis aquarium company.  They explain, in case you’re wondering, that fish don’t actually urinate like mammals.  They get rid of some waste through their gills and some through a cloaca in their underbelly.  In freshwater fish, the same cloaca is always releasing excess water, but not in the form of urine.

That said, you’re welcome as always to comment below on the topic at hand.  But if you’d like to digress to another relevant topic, please write me instead at because maybe your new topic merits a column of its own.