Go Fish


Ever wonder where some of our traditional games come from?

Go Fish.

That’s a good one. We’ve all hear the expression based on the terms fishing. And, in the true sense of the game, that’s pretty much exactly what you are doing. You toss the question out there… the bait… and hope for a hit. Later, that bait can work against you, since you’re casting out the information that you have that rank of card in your hand.

The term “go fish” we know from the game, and has come to refer to something that is almost a hopeless and lost cause. You’re off on a fishing expedition… gone fishing. It might be the sarcastic response given when you don’t get what you ask for. And how about those legendary fishing tales? Kind of works there too.

It doesn’t appear that the game ever had anything to do with fishing though. At least not until one variation of the game became more noted and popular.

August Smith is credited with the first documented version of the game. But it wasn’t called Go Fish. He created a game called Authors. Produced by a company called Whipple & Smith, I suppose it wouldn’t surprise you to learn that it involved matching up famous authors. Most of what I found looking it up appears at times closer to a flip memory game than a deck of cards in hand, but the foundations have connections.

And from the research… that history line leads us back even further.

The game of Authors is traced back further to other origins, possibly to the Middle Ages. And before focusing on August Smith, we could over to Europe and a game called Quartet.

Here we have a German version of the game. And it is actually believed that Authors may have been taken from Quartet.

There is a British version of the game is known as Happy Families, and as you can plainly see, we begin to find several games… different places and regions… many claiming to be the original… and no way to confirm degrees of initial design, coincidence, inspiration and more.

The reason it is called Go Fish for so many of us today would likely be popularity. Funny thing those copyright laws. International laws didn’t exist in the middle years of the 1800s. They came about around 1890. So, even lending our nod toward Authors as the game, it was reproduced in many forms. In many cases though, Authors may be a reproduction of a previous game, and simply fortunate enough to be the first one documented.

Want to get silly? Authors eventually branched out in to other categories, such as Inventors and Presidents. And the number of cards dealt differs, depending on the game being played, and perhaps more importantly, the deck being used.

The concept, and the laws protecting such situations, come into play in fascinating ways. For most of us though, all that really matters is whether or not you have any sevens.


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com