People are calling Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, a “catfish,” a term for a fake online identity presented as real—-often in the context of online romance. The term, it seems, comes from ” Catfish ” a 2010 documentary (which inspired a spin-off film series of the same name) about a man who falls in love with a fake woman.

That’s all well and good, but how did the movie get the name “catfish” in the first place? As someone who’s been catfishing, I didn’t see the connection. You just go out, set your line, and wait through the night.

Well, the name of the film, it turns out, comes from a speech delivered by a character in the documentary:

They used to tank cod from Alaska all the way to China. They’d keep them in vats in the ship. By the time the codfish reached China, the flesh was mush and tasteless. So this guy came up with the idea that if you put these cods in these big vats, put some catfish in with them and the catfish will keep the cod agile. And there are those people who are catfish in life. And they keep you on your toes. They keep you guessing, they keep you thinking, they keep you fresh. And I thank god for the catfish because we would be droll, boring and dull if we didn’t have somebody nipping at our fin.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the story itself is made up. In any case, that’s how we got the latest addition to our national lexicon.

Articles by Matthew Schmitz


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