It was a relatively uneventful Sunday night. No major problems. No run-ins with loonies. I was nearly ready to go home. And then it happened.
A guy called me over to his table to ask me if he could “exchange” his iced tea. I nodded in assent and was about to ask him what he would like to exchange it for; I had no intention of asking him why. He, however, had every intention of telling me why.
He claimed that his freshly-brewed iced tea “tasted like fish”. I said, “Okay. I’ll change it for you.” When I returned with his Sprite, I sensed that he seemed unsatisfied by my disinterest in what was, I’ll admit, a fairly unusual claim. He felt the need to elaborate.
He wanted me to understand that his iced tea had not tasted “fishy”. That it had, in fact “tasted like fish”. I assured him that I had fully comprehended his meaning; that my first priority was to insure that he was not beverage-less. I informed him that, having now accomplished the latter, my plan was to look into whether something may have gone awry with the iced tea. (I didn’t tell him this, but I had also planned to sample the lemonade, in the event that it had somehow acquired a reindeer flavor.)
I don’t know, maybe he sensed that I wasn’t really taking his complaint seriously. Because I wasn’t. Or, maybe he picked up on the fact that I wanted to get the hell out of there. Because I did. Whatever the reason, he again found it necessary to repeat to me that he did, in fact, want to make it clear to me that he had returned his iced tea because it had “tasted like fish”, not because it tasted “fishy”. He had a burning desire to be sure I understood the difference.
I was then required to stand there and listen to his interminable explanation of the distinction between “tasting like fish” and “fishy”, a distinction which any reasonably intelligent native speaker of the English language should easily and instantly recognize. He just went on and on and on. Finally, I said, “Sir, I get it. ‘Fishy’ means “suspect”. It doesn’t always mean that something tastes like fish. I also understand that your initial report did not contain the word ‘fishy’. ‘Fishy’ was a word that you introduced secondarily.”
Holy Shit! All of this because he didn’t like the iced tea, which, by the way, tasted perfectly fine to me. Nope. Nothing “fishy” about it. In either sense of the word.