QOD: One of the most common literary and cinematic devices is the “fish out of water,” the guy who leaves the only place he knows well and ventures into a land or a situation where he’s in over his head. The device I understand. The expression, not so much. If you take a fish out of the water, doesn’t it just die?
Answer: It’s true, the “fish out of water” is one of the most tired and clichéd of literary devices. It’s also true that a literal fish out of water will die. What you’re missing though, Jamey, is the slow and painful way that it dies. What’s more entertaining than taking a living creature, snatching it from its natural environment into one it cannot possibly survive in, then watching as it flops around wildly, slowly and painfully suffocating to death? It’s hilarious! Would other similes such as “pigeon out of sky” or “puma out of jungle” hold the same heft, the same literal gravitas, as “fish out of water”? I surely think not.
Personally, I prefer to stick with the “pigeon out of sky” device in which the main character just sort of struts around a bit and poops on stuff. Hello bestseller.