Words to refer to edible water-dwelling creatures

Am not sure whether this belongs properly in Cafe Society, or IMHO. Anyhow – it’s another one prompted by the Cafe Society “Is fish ‘meat’?” thread, and people’s struggles there regarding attempted clarifying / categorising.

Re what follows, I feel that I may come across as very ignorant, or a being from another planet; but it’s ignorance which I wish to fight. It occurred to me, reading the “Is fish…?” thread: that people of course eat --as well as creatures from the sea – freshwater creatures: finned fish, and life-forms other than finned fish (e.g. freshwater crayfish). I get the impression that the word “seafood” is used in an all-encompassing way, for everything that is animal rather than vegetable, which we eat, and which lives in – salt or fresh – water. (One feels that “waterfood” would be more accurate and logical for the purpose; but very often, language is not about logic.) Also, it’s common practice to use “shellfish” as a blanket term for edible water creatures which are not finned fish; this term employed to cover some which do not actually have shells – e.g. squid and octopus.

Am I basically right about the above, as regards US usage? Here in the UK, we seldom use the word “seafood”: we tend just to lump everything together as “fish” – while sometimes, as above, using “shellfish” for “anything that isn’t finned fish”.

We could end the dispute by calling it “swimming meat.”

Surf and turf. Or rather, surf.

Those have internal shells.

Protein from the sea.

What if its from a lake or river?

I don’t think so.


Or, “swimming food”? While reckoning this whole thing, a bit storm-in-a-teacup-ish (whereby I shouldn’t be bothered enough about it, to start threads :dubious:) – it would seem that “meat” may be a word to avoid. As gets much discussed in the “Is fish…?” thread: “meat” is bedevilled by its dual connotations of “the flesh of any non-vegetable creature”; and “mammals and birds are meat, water-dwelling beasts are not meat – they’re fish, various kinds of…” (it would seem that the Catholic Church is considerably to blame here).

And – as people bring up in that thread – “meat” has yet other meanings – coconuts have meat; centuries ago, the meaning of “meat” in standard English, was just “food” (sweetmeats, mincemeat, etc.) – one comes to feel: at all costs, eschew the M-word !

‘Seafood’ often refers to freshwater fish, like alligator. Shellfish does get used to refer to non-finned varieties of fish even if they don’t have shells. Doesn’t make sense? It was summed up neatly on Seinfeld:

George: The sea was angry that day, my friends - like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli. I got about fifty feet out and suddenly, the great beast appeared before me. I tell you he was ten stories high if he was a foot. As if sensing my presence, he let out a great bellow. I said, “Easy, big fella!” And then, as I watched him struggling, I realized that something was obstructing its breathing. From where I was standing, I could see directly into the eye of the great fish.

Jerry: Mammal.

George: Whatever.

Cuttlefish have internal shells, but squid and octopuses have at most a beak. I’m not sure if they’re encompassed under “shellfish” in general usage, though: They’re uncommon enough in English-speaking cultures that they don’t really need to be categorized. I certainly wouldn’t serve octopus to someone who says they have a shellfish allergy, but if I have a craving for calamari, it’s not going to be satisfied by clams.

Biologically, squid and octopuses are mollusks, like clams, scallops, etc., though they’ve effectively lost their shell (many species have a vestigial scrap of shell somewhere inside, but some don’t).

Culinarily, they’re shellfish.

I’d assume allergy-wise they’re shellfish, too, unless told different.

Yeah, if lobster and crab (crustaceans) are shellfish, then octopus and squid are shellfish too.

And of course the correct reaction when told someone is allergic to any food is to tell them, in as much detail as they require, exactly what food you’re serving them.

When I try to explain that I dislike the flavor of any type of fish, shellfish, shrimp, mollusk, clam, oyster or anything that lives in the water, I use the word ‘seafood’.



Whatever you do, do not do it theArby’s way and say “ocean meat”. Unless you want to give people the heebies AND the jeebies.

Non-mammalian protein-based lifeforms that use aquatic locomotion to propel themselves through a liquid medium.

Crustaceans don’t swim, they walk on the bottom.

Lobsters and shrimp swim. Crabs don’t exactly swim that I know of.