I found the word dogfish in a dialog between two soldiers in A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (page 195). Here is the relevant part of the dialog,

"Has the food really been short?"
"I myself have never had enough to eat but I am a big eater and I have not starved. The mess is average. The regiments in the line get pretty good food but those in support don't get so much. Something is wrong somewhere. There should be plenty of food."
"The dogfish are selling it somewhere else."
"Yes, they give the battalions in the front line as much as they can but the ones in back are very short. They have eaten all the Austrians' potatoes and chestnuts from the woods. They ought to feed them better. We are big eaters. I am sure there is plenty of food. It is very bad for the soldiers to be short of food. Have you ever noticed the difference it makes in the way you think?"

The dialog makes me think of this dogfish as people, not fish as defined in all dictionaries I tried. Perhaps it refers to people who speculated the price of food during the war, but I'm not sure.

What does this dogfish mean?

  • Since dogfish is a carnivorous fish, and the name is also used fro small sharks, I think your interpretation makes sense (shark is used for someone who makes a profit in a possibly immoral way, e.g. loan-shark). But to my surprise it does seem difficult to find a confirmation :)
    – oerkelens
    Feb 27, 2014 at 13:09
  • 3
    @oerkelens It appears that this is a literal translation from Italian, in which pescecani is the equivalent of dogfish but is also used as a slang term for profiteer. The speaker here is Italian. DamkerngT, the entire essay I have linked here is fascinating. Feb 27, 2014 at 13:14
  • @StoneyB Thank you very much! Please post it as an answer. I also find the essay really fascinating! Bookmarked. Feb 27, 2014 at 13:32
  • Nice one, @StoneyB! Fascinating indeed :) @DamkerngT: Just leave the tab open ;)
    – oerkelens
    Feb 27, 2014 at 13:33

1 Answer 1


Mark Cirino notes this as an instance of Hemingway’s use of literally translated Italian idiom to signal that a conversation is being carried on in Italian.

In A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway needed to balance contradictory challenges, representing members of the Italian Army speaking to each other as authentically as possible—in Italian—while still allowing the novel to be understood by an English-speaking readership. His main strategy in overcoming these obstacles was to produce literal translations of common Italian phrases and words. (Cirino 46)

Italian pescecani (literally ‘fishdogs’) is composed of the same semantic elements as English dogfish, and has the meaning “shark”; but it is also a slang term meaning “profiteer”, exactly as oerkelens surmised.

‘“You Don't Know the Italian Language Well Enough:”The Bilingual Dialogue of A Farewell To Arms’,The Hemingway Review, 25.1 (2005),43-62

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