Tuesday, October 30, 2012

you're going to need a bigger boat

We haven't done a halibut-related post for a while, so here is the news for halibuts:
  • No halibuts were involved today when an Afghan policeman opened fire on British troops at a checkpoint. A spokesman for halibuts expressed his relief that no halibuts were involved. 
  • One halibut was, however, involved in a tragic trawling incident which resulted in him being, erm, trawled. And then cut up and eaten. This is just the latest in a series of giant halibut stories including this one from 2008 (as previously featured on this blog) but also this one from 2009this one from 2010 and this one from 2011 (this is the fish in the picture - it's the one on the right without the wellies).
A couple of questions arise from that second story, actually - firstly there's the claim that the fish yielded "more than 1,000 portions". That seems like a lot, even from a fish weighing almost exactly twice as much as I do at 186kg (that's a touch over 29 stone in old money). Let's take a look at the maths - I'd say a single portion of fish, if you're not going to be too stingy about it, weighs between 150 and 180 grams. It might even be more if you're inclined to generous portions, but that'll do. Now, a thousand 180g portions of fish (or indeed lead, feathers or anything else) weighs 180kg, which leaves precious little room for throwing anything away, in fact it would mean that all the accumulated guts, eyes, bones, fins and bits of skin weighed a mere 6kg, i.e. a frankly implausible 3.2% of the fish. Even the frugal 150g portion only leaves 36kg of wastage, which at 19.4% of the original fish still seems a touch on the low side to me. And they said over 1,000 portions, remember. I'm not sure I buy it. Or rather I'm not sure I would buy it, if a restaurant offered me 0.1% of the edible portion of a 186kg fish, as I strongly suspect that would be rather a small meal. As a comparison the 2010 story linked above reckons the 220kg fish snagged there would have yielded 970 portions, which if we assume the same portion size range yields a wastage ratio of between 21% and 34%.

Secondly, what is the plural of halibut? I've used "halibuts" in the first couple of paragraphs above, largely for comic effect, but actually I think "halibut" sounds more sensible. I think there may be a rule here, as I can't think of a fish where the plural form sounds sensible compared to just re-using the singular. One cod, two cod, three haddock, five salmon, twelve hake, eighty-six mackerel, four trillion goldfish, and so on. The last one there may hold the key to the mystery - does this rule apply because "fish" is its own plural, and all sub-divisions of the "fish" category therefore inherit their pluralisation rules from it?

Lastly, do not diss the halibut, whether singular or plural. Even a singular one, if it's big enough, can fuck you up pretty good. So watch yourself.


The Black Rabbit said...

I was told at university that "fishes" (pl of fish) was to be used for multiple spp.
For one sp. only though, "fish" would suffice for singular and plural use.

I was also told (I think) that the Chondrichthyes used regular plurals (sharks, rays etc...) more than the Osteichthyes (bony fish).

I have no idea why this would be the case (I didn't know then and I don't know now), but it would seem to fit.

So if I was to catch several halibut, I'd have caught several halibut (not halibuts).

But, if I was to catch several sharks, I'd have caught several sharks (not shark).

If I was to catch only halibut (or only sharks for that matter) I'd have caught some fish.

But.... if I was to catch halibut and a shark or sharks (for example) I'd have caught some fishes.

Not explaining this very well am I. Soz.

Anyway... I have no idea if any of this is correct - its just a rule of thumb given to me by scientists (zoologists) rather than linguists. Cunning or not.

And before you ask I expect the same goes for jellyfish and cuttlefish.

Several of one sp. equals jellyfish or cuttlefish.
More than one spp. equals jellyfishes or cuttlefishes.

Like I say, I may be wrong. Hey ho.

electrichalibut said...

No, I follow you, and yes, "sharks" sounds more sensible than "shark" as a plural.

There are some anomalies even within the bony fish, though - "herrings" sounds reasonably sensible to me in a way that "haddocks" doesn't, for instance. That's probably just me though.

I'm going to start a campaign for "halibi" (to rhyme with "alibi") as the plural form.

The Black Rabbit said...

I'm going to say this (write this) and run away.

I wonder what the COLLECTIVE NOUN for halibut is....

(I'm running away now)