One of the interesting aftermaths of discovering you’ve been married to a psychopathic liar for years is an unavoidable new fascination with reality – the nature of it, the possible porousness of it, and by what ways and means can one determine exactly what it might be. People who have never experienced an utter and complete shifting of reality-as-known right before their very eyes have a hard time understanding this prodding and poking at the everyday things that go by on an everyday basis. “What’s wrong with her?,” they mutter, as the questions and pokings continue on from my direction in the obsessive quest for Truth, capitalized.
I assure you – there’s nothing wrong with me that a good discussion of beaver’s tail won’t cure – at least for the moment.
As you see in the painting above, a beaver’s tail is not just a beaver’s tail. A beaver’s tail is a fish, actually. or so they say. Have you ever seen a real live beaver’s tail?
There you have it. Doesn’t look too fish-like to me. Doesn’t look too palatable, either – but apparently there were times in past history when people had to eat what was in front of them and for some bizarre reason beaver tail was what was in front of them.
Why call it a fish? Well, I could write it out in my own words so as to sound like I’m working hard on providing creative content but why bother? Isn’t the act of doing that a bit of a fishy beaver-tail in itself? Here’s wiki, instead:
In the 17th century, based on a question raised by the Bishop of Quebec, the Roman Catholic Church ruled that the beaver was a fish (beaver flesh was a part of the indigenous peoples’ diet, prior to the Europeans’ arrival) for purposes of dietary law. Therefore, the general prohibition on the consumption of meat on Fridays during Lent does not apply to beaver meat.
The legal basis for the decision probably rests with the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, which bases animal classification as much on habit as anatomy. This is similar to the Church’s classification of the capybara, another semi-aquatic rodent.
There we have it. Someone decided to stretch things a little bit. I bet somewhere there were politics involved. There usually is, deep under the yumm-o surface of the things we eat.
What is this ‘neither fish nor flesh nor good red herring’ thing all about, though? After all, if a thing is a tail which is meat which has been decided by someone to be a fish yet it is not a red herring specifically (a red herring is not only a fish which has been cured to make them a red color but also was a ploy in the 17th century used by criminals – just drag an old herring over the escape route through the woods and those durn huntin’ dogs would lose their scent – Ah! Freedom all found in a rotten fish for the Bad Guys!) then what does this mean??
No evidence has been found, either in proof or denial, yet the fact that the earliest record of this phrase coincided almost exactly with the break between Henry VIII and the Pope, a break that could not have occurred unless preceded by a long period of disaffection, makes me suspect that the original significance of the expression was theological. One who abstained from either fish nor flesh when days of fasting were prescribed were neither Roman Catholics nor Dissenters, neither one thing nor the other – just plain irreligious. Charles Earl Funk, 2017 Curious Word Sayings and Expressions
Irreligion. There we go again. So often at the bottom of things. Yet we build more religions each day.