This is a part of Asian culture, not common in Western countries. Asian people sometimes are willing to eat fish that still has some bones in it.

When eating, adults know how to rub the fish from side to side so that the bones can poke out and they use their fingers to take the bones out. Small children can't do that.

Normally, you need an art of eating fish to do it and you have to do it with care or else you may choke on bones.

Is it idiomatic to say "make sure you rock the fish to get its bones out or else you will choke on them"?

  • Sounds literal to me -- not an idiom. You literally rock the fish to get the bones out or you will literally choke on them. You might have to explain exactly how to "rock the fish" but I don't think it's an idiom. (Anecdotally, I almost never order fish from a restaurant and find there are bones in it.)
    – JamieB
    Jul 28, 2022 at 21:03

1 Answer 1


First off, whole fish, full of bones, is not unusual in Western culture. It just tends to be expensive and more trouble than it's worth. However, every supermarket sells whole fish.

"Rock the fish" doesn't work at all. That is what you do to a baby to send it to sleep.

I'd just say "check the fish" (it is implied that the actual method of checking is well known and doesn't need to be described) Or "pick the bones out". If I need to describe, I'll demonstrate "You rub the fish like this... and when you feel a bone..."

If I'm serving fish to younger children I'll do that myself (or give them the tail end, that is much easier to remove bones from.

Given that the person is old enough to know how to remove the bones, I don't need a long explanation:

Makes sure you check for bones.

I don't need to say "how" or "why" because they already know.

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