Have you ever heard this phrase? I’ve heard it on three of my all-time favorite shows: The Andy Griffith Show, M*A*S*H and the 1966 film “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.”
I never knew its exact translation but I knew its meaning from context: It’s a retort to someone who has made you angry, a low-heat response along the lines of “Oh yeah?”
So where did it come from and what does it mean? Given its origins on The Andy Griffith Show, set in North Carolina, I thought it was of southern origins, particularly when two of the exchanges involve Alabama-born actors.
Let’s review the examples:
- In the 1963 “Citizen’s Arrest” episode of The Andy Griffith Show, Barney (Don Knotts) gives Gomer (Alabama native Jim Nabors) a ticket for making a U-turn. Gomer, who thought it was undeserved, responds, “You just go up an alley and holler fish.”
- In the 1974 “Alcoholics Unanimous” episode of M*A*S*H, Trapper (played by Birmingham native Wayne Rogers) and Hawkeye (Alan Alda) are on the wagon after Frank dismantled their still. Irritated, Trapper accuses Hawkeye of being glib and always having a retort in any situation. Hawkeye responds, calmly: “Run up an alley and holler fish.”
- In the film “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken,” Luther Heggs (another Don Knotts character) responds to teasing by saying “Why don’t you run up an alley and holler fish?”
The phrase was apparently first introduced on television in the 1963 episode of The Andy Griffith Show. It was put in the “Citizens Arrest” script by show writer Everette Greenbaum.
The book “Mayberry 101” gives Greenbaum’s explanation: “‘You just go up an alley and holler fish’ was one of my mother’s sayings. It meant ‘hush up’ and came from the vendors who sold food in the alleys of her Philadelphia childhood.”
Perhaps that means if the fish vendors were in the alley rather than the street, their calls wouldn’t be as loud. Hmmm.
Any-hoo, it’s definitely not a southern phrase. Now you know the rest of the story. Click here to read the origins of more phrases from the Andy Griffith Show.