THE HOLY FLATFISH
The meaning and origin of words and phrases related to flatfish
Halibut are simply huge flatfish up to 2.5m long. Their name is first recorded in the 15th century as Halybutte, with haly meaning holy and butte meaning flatfish. It was so-called because it was frequently eaten on holy days.
Turbot are another highly-prized, large flatfish. The word turbot entered English as turbut around the turn of the 14th century from the Old French tourbout. It may originate from the Latin turbo meaning a spinning top because of a perceived similarity in their shapes. Alternatively it may be related to the Old Swedish for turbot törnbut, which was formed from törn 'thorn' (turbot have conical knobbly tubercles or ‘spines’ on their body) + but 'flatfish'.
Sole are a highly-rated species of flatfish. Their name is from the Old French sole, from the Latin solea 'a kind of flatfish' but originally meaning 'sandal'. The name was given because of the similarity in the fish's shape to a sandle. and Solea remains the genus name for the fish. The use of sole to mean the underside of the foot or footwear also derives from solea.
Plaice are flatfish with orange spots on their upper surface. First recorded as plais and plays in the 13th century, their name comes from the Old French plaïs, itself from the Latin platessa flatfish, thought to be from the Greek for broad or flat platýs which is also the origin of the words platypus (meaning ‘flat-footed’), plantain and place. Place developed from platýs to the Latin platea meaning a broad street (as in modern day piazza and plaza in Italian and Spanish respectively) or courtyard and from there to the Medieval Latin placea with the meaning of spot or place.
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