A Different Kettle of Fish

Meanings of “A Different Kettle of Fish”

‘A different kettle of fish’ means saying or describing something or someone in an entirely different sense right after talking about the same subject. It also means you are talking about something which is not related to the topic you are asked to speak. And your perspective, opinion, and understanding are not matching with the other person(s) who are discussing a particular topic.

While ‘a different kettle of fish’ is a common idiom, ‘another kettle of fish’ is also a known phrase which gives the same meaning. The expression is also used without ‘different’ and ‘another’. A kettle of fish often means mixture or confusion.

Origin of “A Different Kettle of Fish”

The phrase “a different kettle of fish” is originated from the United Kingdom. However, it is also a widely used phrase in the United States.

The origin of “a different kettle of fish” is traced back to Thomas Newte’s A Tour in England and Scotland published in 1785. It is stated to have mentioned it. There is another origin from Scotland, a newspaper Carlisle Patriot published in June 1889. It has mentioned this phrase as follows:

“To enable them to manage their own local affairs will not satisfy Irishmen. What they want is a very different kettle of fish.”

It appeared in a dialogue between Mr. D—- and Mr. H—- in “The Rival Masons” as taken from the 56th volume of The Political State of Great Britain in 1738. Mr. H— uses this phrase but replaces ‘different’ with ‘fine’, “I doubt [that is, fear] we have but rouz’d a sleeping Lion: A stop-Thief has sometimes saved a House-breaker, and many a Wench has sav’d her Reputation by crying Whore first: But the more this Matter is stirred, the more it stinks, and I doubt we have made a Fine Kettle of Fish on’t.”

Another example this phrase has been found in Henry Fielding’s novel The History of Tome Jones. The novel was published first in 1749. Squire Western seem to lecture Mr. Allworthy when he uses this phrase. He argues that “There you have done a fine Piece of Work truly. You have brought up your Bastard to a fine Purpose; not that I believe you have had any Hand in it neither, that is, as a Man may say, designedly; but there is a fine Kettle of Fish made on’t up at our House.”

Examples from Literature

Example #1

A Song About Myself by John Keats

There was a naughty boy
And a naughty boy was he,
He kept little fishes
In washing tubs three
In spite
Of the might
Of the maid
Nor afraid
Of his Granny-good —
He often would
Hurly burly
Get up early
And go
By hook or crook
To the brook
And bring home
Miller’s thumb,
Not over fat,
Minnows small
As the stall
Of a glove,
Not above
The size
Of a nice
Little baby’s
Little fingers —
O he made
‘Twas his trade
Of fish a pretty kettle
A kettle —
A kettle
Of fish a pretty kettle
A kettle!

This is a part of a popular poem by John Keats, “A Song About Myself.” The poem underlines the story of a naughty boy. This part highlights how he keeps fishes in a washing tub. He keeps fishes using every possible mean. Humor in this poem is couched in the use of words and phrases. The phrase “a different kettle of fish” has been twisted to suit meanings and meter of the poem as it uses it as “of fish a pretty kettle” and then repeats the word kettle several times.

Example #2

A Different Kettle of Fish by Michael Barton

A Different Kettle of Fish is a novel by Michael Barton about his life as a graduate of physics. He has written it from the point of autistic people and how they deal with the English language, confusing different phrases and idioms when using and applying them in the real world. The book is primarily written to show how language works for the autistic people. The use of the phrase as its title amply shows the twisted use of language by an autistic young man.

Example #3

Wind Your Neck In by Lilly Allen

“I’ve always said each to their own
Won’t you give me a break
Won’t you throw me a bone
I’m a different kettle of fish
If you don’t understand
Just look the other way, you bitch
I’ll do my thing, you do yours
What you get up to behind closed doors
Not of interest, I’ve no opinion
It’s not my business
Wind your neck in.”

Although the theme of this short poem is entirely different from this phrase, the appropriateness of the use of this phrase in the fourth line makes it easy to understand its relevance. Actually, the poem means to mind your own business with stress upon the difference of the personality of the poet when he says that he is “a different kettle of fish.”

Examples in Sentences as Literary Devices

Example #1: This phrase could be used as a metaphor for a situation. “Now you cannot get this scholarship, for it was a different kettle of fish two days back. You are late now.

Example #2: “In your words, you said he something yesterday and different thing today. That’s like a different kettle of fish.” This phrase has been used as a simile as the word “like” shows.

Example #3: “A different kettle of fish or a different fish of kettle; he is a misfit at this place.” This phrase has been used as a chiasmus by reversing the place of words in two phrases joined with or.

Example #4: “He is a different kettle of fish” is a metaphor as the phrase refers to the person.

Example #5: “Bolt, with his country accent and laid-back manner, was a different kettle of fish. Look at him now transformed into a city boy.” This phrase has been used in a metaphorical sense as it refers to the person in question.