What Does Shooting Fish in a Barrel Mean?

Shooting Fish in a Barrel Meaning

Definition: Extremely easy, or not difficult at all.

This is a fun expression that creates a whimsical mental picture. Imagine how hard it would be to shoot a fish in the river or in the ocean. Now, imagine how much easier it would be if the fish were stuck in a barrel. It would be a lot easier!

Origin of Shooting Fish in a Barrel

The origin of this idiom is more of a mystery than most, but there is one theory that is the most popular.

In the past, after fish were caught, they were packaged to be sold in the market place. The fish were tightly packed into barrels filled with ice. If someone were to shoot into that barrel, they’d be guaranteed to hit one.

Examples of Shooting Fish in a Barrel

catching fish in a barrelThis phrase is most often used as a simile. People might say, “It’s like shooting fish in a barrel,” or “It’s as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.”

Here is an example dialogue between a new employee, Ricardo, and an old employee, Yuki, at their workplace.

Yuki: Welcome to the new job! Are you nervous for your first day?

Ricardo: I’m so nervous, actually! Is this job very hard?

Yuki: Not at all! It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Relax, you have nothing to worry about.

common English idioms fish in barrelHere’s another example of the phrase used in its negative form. In this example, two parents are discussing how they will teach their young children to read.

Otto: You know, I think I’ll just read to my kids every night. They’ll figure it out just by listening to me.

Lorenzo: What? You mean you aren’t going to teach them the sounds of the letters or anything?

Otto: No, I don’t think it’s necessary.

Lorenzo: Come on! Teaching kids to read isn’t like shooting fish in a barrel! It takes a lot of hard work and practice.

More Examples

  • The hunt for that traditional Black Friday quarry, a low-priced HDTV, should be as easy for shoppers this year as shooting fish in a barrel. That’s because a confluence of market pressures has created a perfect buying opportunity for shoppers this season. –USA Today
  • “Mr. Posner said he has to taste at least 100 domestic Pinot Noirs to find five that he deems worthy to put on his store shelves. “It’s not like shooting fish in a barrel,” Mr. Posner said of finding high-quality domestic Pinot Noir under $40. A good bottle can easily cost twice as much.” –The Wall Street Journal

Summary

This idiom is used to say that something is very simple. It can have either a positive or a negative connotation.

When used in a positive way, the idiom highlights how easy something is as a good thing. It can, however, have a negative connotation when a person wants to say that something is too easy.

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