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What does 'catfish' mean? Explaining the phrase and its Michigan connection

Thursday, 17 January 2013

The slang term catfish hit the news big-time on Wednesday with the bizarre story of the not-real, but-nonetheless-dead girlfriend of star Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o. Te'o and Notre Dame officials say the player was the victim of an elaborate online hoax, in which he thought he was in relationship with a woman, but was actually unknowingly interacting with someone else. The person who assumes such a fake identity is known as a catfish. The popular website urbandictionary.com, which specializes in slang and evolving language, defines it thusly: "A catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they're not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances." While the original derivation of the term is unclear, it entered the pop-culture lexicon with the release of the 2010 documentary "Catfish" - which is partially based in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. As Free Press movie writer Julie Hinds wrote in her 2010 story about "Catfish": "The film is about the surprising odyssey that begins when New York photographer Yaniv (Nev) Schulman develops an online friendship with an 8-year-old artist named Abby from Ishpeming (and then) falls for (her half-sister) Megan and spends a lot of time communicating with her through the Web and by phone." As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that all is not right in Ishpeming. The film earned positive reviews, but some critics questioned whether the story of Schulman being duped was itself faked by the documentarians. Nonetheless, the movie became the basis for a popular MTV reality show with the same name and theme - fake online romances. The show's first-run episodes air at 11 p.m. Mondays on MTV. The movie is available on DVD, Blu-ray and streaming services such as Amazon and Xfinity.
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