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”.
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.
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.