The baffling world of "Fishspeak"- Translated!

In the course of my day as owner of Tannin Aquatics, and co-owner of Unique Corals, I talk to so many fish people that I figure I’m as qualified as anyone to make some social observations here. I have no formal psychology or sociology training, apart from a few classes that I stumbled through in college. Of course, this makes me the ideal candidate to disseminate this information with an air of undisputed authority, right?

Like any culture, aquarium keeping has it’s vernacular, it’s technical jargon, and it’s expressions. Of course, being deep inside the culture, it’s sometimes hard to step back and take an objective look. Fortunately, you have me, them man with one foot on the pulse of aquarium culture, and the other in the water change bucket…(aww, how did that happen AGAIN?) Well, you get the idea- I can be your personal guide to the baffling lexicon of “aquariumspeak.”

Let’s look at some of the more common terms, used in context, so that we can analyze just what they really mean.


You are talking to a livestock vendor, inquiring about a cool Apisto species, and the voice on the other end of the phone tells you something like, “ We don’t currently have that species available…We’re growing out a new clutch, and we’ll let you know when it is available.”

C’mon, this is a no-brainer. You know what it really means…

 Translation: “We lost the breeding pair and don’t foresee getting one back any time soon. In fact, we don’t ever think that we’ll get the fish back, as we’re too proud to ask anyone to hook us up with some fry so that we can re-start our propagation efforts with this one.”



When you’re visiting with a fellow hobbyist and admiring his or her tank, you casually ask where they got that rare Lake Tang “Shellie” that you know is the hottest, most expensive thing on the ‘net, while his/her disapproving spouse (who would just as easily like to see the tank turned into a bookshelf) is within earshot. The answer is “Gee, well that was incredible..It was like a hitchhiker that just sort of arrived..I was tweaking some of the rock one day and I noticed this little fish pop out of it…” (This theory totally ignores the fact that the fish in question is ridiculously colorful,  just appeared two days before, is not all that tiny…).

We’ve seen this one so many times before it’s not even funny…right?

Translation: “I spent a lot of money on this fish from ( insert favorite vendor here) with money earmarked for the kitchen remodel, and had it surreptitiously shipped to my (choose one) office/sister’s house/friend, and acclimated and released it carefully and quietly one evening while everyone was asleep.”




You’re visiting a fellow hobbyist and he is “apologizing” for the profusely growing algae and discolored plants in his tank. He assertively states, “I got a bad batch of (insert random food/additive/plant product here), and everything has been dying!” When asked how long this has been going on, he indicates “Months!”

Ahh, lack of husbandry rears its ugly head yet again. Easier to blame a manufacturer’s defect for his ills.

Translation: “I have not made water changes on my system in almost a year. My tank was looking pretty bad. I finally made one last week and the plants did not improve, therefore, it must be a bad batch of food…The lack of health cannot be correlated with my failure to maintain my tank. Nope.”

We’re a proud lot, huh?



You’re at your favorite local fish store, and you spy an amazing Bucephalandra species growing in the big display tank behind the counter. You of course ask if they can sell you a cutting. The response is, “No we can’t cut from that tank. It’s too invasive.”

On first thought, it’s sounding like another excuse to bash the LFS again…But think about it for a second…

Translation: “We’re total aquarium geeks, and we just can’t bear the thought of cutting up this beautiful plant, even if it involves us making money!” In my book, that’s every reason I need to tell me why I want to do business with this store! They just told me that they love the plant as much as I do…How can I not let my frustrations go and just have ultimate respect for them?




“I don’t get why the plants are crapping out. I checked every parameter and nothing is out of line.”

Oh, this is common, believe me!

Translation: “I checked my temperature, pH, nitrite and ammonia. They’re all good.” Of course, this fails to take into account alkalinity, nitrate, phosphate, iron, etc. You know, the ones that really indicate if the tank is suitable for plants? Oops.



You’re with your friends at the fish auction, ACA, AKA, or IBC convention, etc. You proudly announce to your friends “I’m just going to check everything out. My tanks are full, and my fish fund is tapped out at the moment. I’m just gonna listen to the speakers.”


Translation: You’re attempting to talk yourself out of spending a chunk of cash on new fishes, and there’s little doubt that you won't be able to. You’re in a virtual fish frenzy, surrounded by your enabling fish buddies. And, the vendors accept credit cards.

You’re so screwed.

Am I worried that I’ve just called us all out to the non-fish people out there? Nah.

It’s my job.

Stay connected to your aquariums. Share your fry with your pals.

And stay wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics









Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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