like shooting fish in a barrel

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like shooting fish in a barrel

Post by Archived Topic » Mon May 31, 2004 9:22 pm

first used where & when
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like shooting fish in a barrel

Post by Archived Reply » Mon May 31, 2004 9:37 pm

This is all I could find. It’s a rough "when" but no "how or where."

AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY OF IDIOMS

LIKE SHOOTING FISH IN A BARREL: Ridiculously easy, as in Setting up a computer nowadays is like shooting fish in a barrel. This hyperbolic expression alludes to the fact that fish make an easy target inside a barrel (as opposed to swimming freely in the sea). [Early 1900s]
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Ken G - March 16, 2002
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like shooting fish in a barrel

Post by Archived Reply » Mon May 31, 2004 9:51 pm

thanks ken
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like shooting fish in a barrel

Post by Archived Reply » Mon May 31, 2004 10:05 pm

From The Odyssey, Book Ten at http://www.mythweb.com/odyssey/book10.html

They came screaming back to the shore, followed by the entire clan of Laestrygonians. As the men scrambled to cast off, they were bombarded by boulders pelted from the heights. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. The Laestrygonians smashed ships and men and gorged on lumps of Greek.

Here is another translation:

But Antiphates raised a hue-and-cry after them, and thousands of sturdy Laestrygonians sprang up from every quarter -- ogres, not men. They threw vast rocks at us from the cliffs as though they had been mere stones, and I heard the horrid sound of the ships crunching up against one another, and the death cries of my men, as the Laestrygonians speared them like fishes and took them home to eat them.

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like shooting fish in a barrel

Post by Archived Reply » Mon May 31, 2004 10:20 pm

Susumu, I go with the second translation. Barrels (a cylindrical wooden container with slightly bulging sides made of staves, hooped together, and with flat, parallel ends, or something of this order) did not exist in 12th and 13th century Greece. In, fact the Greeks never did have barrels although the Romans did. I think all the Greeks had was earthenware (urns, amphoras, or whatever they called them). And I’m no authority on the subject, but all the ancient Greek containers I’ve ever seen have fairly small openings at the top (this is not to say that a barrel shaped earthenware container didn’t exist).

Shooting arrows into some kind of urn would be a very awkward proposition in any case, considering the size of the bow and the length of the arrows in that era. Here’s what homer says about the bow of Pandarus followed by the comment from the author of the “The Book of Archery” (Ch.12 – Greek and Roman Archery) by Hansard:

He heard, and madly at the motion pleased, His polish'd bow with hasty rashness seized. 'Twas form'd of horn, and smooth'd with artful toil; A mountain goat resign'd the shining spoil, Who pierced long since, beneath his arrows bled. The stately quarry on the cliffs lay dead, And sixteen palms his brows large honours spread! The workmen join'd and shaped the bended horns, And beaten gold each taper point adorns: “The palm is about four inches; making, therefore, due allowance for a certain portion necessarily consumed in joining the horns under its handle, the bow of Pandarus must have measured nearly five feet……. Our English archer pulls the bowstring always to his ear. The Greek, on the contrary, raised his shaft hand only to the breast.”

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the author and it is an old book but considering a large bow, and considering the length of an arrow that would go with such a bow, and considering that the Greek of that day held the arrow to their chest rather than their head, and if they were on average shorter than we are today (not sure if this is true) they might have had to use the expression “as difficult as shooting fish in an urn.”

The second thing is you shoot an arrow and you throw a spear, although there might me a translation problem here also. But if not, throwing spears rather than shooting arrows into an urn strikes me as much more reasonable than shooting arrows into one, although neither strikes me as being very likely at all. More likely is spearing or possibly shooting fish in lakes, rivers, and streams, which wasn’t all that that uncommon in other times and places.

So my guess is that the first translator copped a phrase that came into existence in the early 20th century and used it in his translation. I think his use of “like shooting fish in a barrel” is out of place in time – an anachronism. If his translation was done earlier or if you could find another translation that was, using this expression, than that would be proof positive that the date given by the American Heritage Dictionary was in error.
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