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butterfish, n.

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Origin: Formed within English, by compounding. Etymons: butter n.1, fish n.1
  Any of various marine fishes thought to resemble butter in some way, as in having slippery mucus-coated skin or oily flesh.

 a. A gunnel (family Pholidae); esp. the rock gunnel, Pholis gunnellus, of the North Atlantic.

1673   J. Ray Coll. Eng. Words 104   Butter-Fish.
1710   R. Sibbald Hist. Fife & Kinross ii. iii. 51   Gunnellus Cornubiensium, the Butter Fish of the English; our Fishers call it the Stone-fish.
1740   R. Brookes Art of Angling ii. xviii. 123   The Butter-Fish or Gunnel..sometimes attains the Length of six Inches..is taken frequently on the Cornish Coast.
1842   J. E. De Kay Zool. N.-Y. iv. 153   The American Butter-fish, Gunnellus mucronatus.
1879   T. Satchell Provis. Index Fish Names 5   Blennius gunnellus, Butter-fish.., Nine-eyes.
1931   E. G. Boulenger Fishes xvi. 139   The Common Butter Fish (Pholis gunnellus ), of both shores of the north Atlantic—family Pholididæ.
1961   E. S. Herald Living Fishes of World 239/2   The rock gunnel, Pholis gunnellus, sometimes called butterfish, is a common 6- to 12-inch inshore species.
2004   P. J. Hayward Nat. Hist. Seashore vii. 213   The butterfish, Pholis gunnellus.., is another littoral fish rather resembling an eel.

1673—2004(Hide quotations)

 

 b. Chiefly Austral. and New Zealand. Any of several fishes, as the dusky morwong, Dactylophora nigricans (family Latridae), the greenbone or kelpfish, Odax pullus (family Odacidae), or any fish of the warehou family Centrolophidae.

1849   Adelaide Misc. 28 July 407   They call it ‘butter fish’: the flesh is white, but it is much richer than any other I have tasted.
1871   Timaru (N.Z.) Herald 14 Jan. 2/4   The Sound is full of wild fowl and fish, consisting of blue cod, eels, crayfish, butterfish, &c.
1883   E. P. Ramsay Food Fishes New S. Wales 12   H[aplodactylus] obscurus,..known to our southern fishermen as the ‘butter-fish’, is highly esteemed.
1948   F. D. Marshall Let's go Fishing 76   One of the best tablefish, the jewfish (also known as dewfish, butterfish..) grows up to 120 pounds in weight.
1986   L. J. Paul N.Z. Fishes 110   Internationally the name butterfish is used for the family to which our warehou belong.
2003   K. Clements in N. Andrew & M. Francis Living Reef xvi. 130/1 (caption)    A male butterfish (Odax pullus) swimming above one of its foods, the seaweed Lessonia variegata.

1849—2003(Hide quotations)

 

 c. Originally U.S. Any of the fishes of the family Stromateidae; esp. the dollarfish, Peprilus triacanthus, of the western Atlantic. Formerly also: the Atlantic moonfish, Selene setapinnis (family Carangidae), of the western Atlantic. Also with distinguishing word.

1884   G. B. Goode in G. B. Goode et al. Fisheries U.S.: Sect. I 323   It [sc. Selene setipennis] is a frequent summer visitor all along the coast as far north as Wood's Holl, Massachusetts, where it has a peculiar name, the people there calling it the ‘Hump-backed Butterfish’.
1888   G. B. Goode Amer. Fishes 221   The ‘Butter-fish’ of Massachusetts and New York, Stromateus triacanthus.
1911   Rep. Comm. U.S. Bureau Fisheries 1908 314/1   Pumpkin-seed.—A name applied to the sunfish (Eupomotis gibbosus) of the brooks of New York and New England, and to the butterfish (Poronotus triacanthus) in Connecticut.
1962   K. F. Lagler et al. Ichthyol. xiv. 443   Among the many other fishes of the neritic zone are the..butter-fishes (Stromateidae).
2015   N.Y. Rev. Bks. 5 Nov. 8/4   In the Gulf, ‘trash’ might include..Gulf butterfish, inshore lizardfish, bonnethead sharks.., orange starfish, and..sea turtles.

1884—2015(Hide quotations)

 

This entry has been updated (OED Third Edition, September 2018).

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