ESEP 17:9-18 (2017)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esep00173

The most famous fish: human relationships with fish as inferred from the corpus of online English books (1800-2000)

Konstantinos I. Stergiou1,2,*

1Institute of Marine Biological Resources and Inland Waters, Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, Aghios Kosmas, 16777 Athens, Greece
2Laboratory of Ichthyology, Department of Zoology, School of Biology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, UP Box 134, 541 24 Thessaloniki, Greece
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Despite the historically close connection between humans and fish, the question ‘What is the most famous fish species?’ has never been asked. I used Google Ngram viewer to estimate the frequency of times the common names of 250 fishes appear in the corpus of digitized English books published between 1800 and 2000. I propose the ‘famon’ as a unit of fame, with 1 famon = 10-6 relative % Ngram frequency. Twelve of the 250 common names are words which also have other uses in English and were thus not considered here, and 57 species had 0 famons. For the remaining 181 species, fame increased for 139 (76.8%), during or part of 1800-2000. Goldfish Carassius auratus, the most common laboratory and aquarium fish and the second fish to be domesticated, is the most famous fish, reaching 80 to 117 famons after 1930. It was introduced to Europe from China about 325 to 450 yr ago and then to North America around 1850. Goldfish have penetrated into cultural aspects of human civilization (e.g. stamps, art, music). ‘Goldfish’ also appears in the corpus of simplified Chinese, French, German, Italian, and Spanish books. The results show the universality and dominance of goldfish in the digitized published heritage. This likely indicates that non-consumptive cultural aspects, including aesthetic, spiritual, and recreational components, play a central role in defining the relationship of humans with fish, being equally important as provisioning, regulating, and supporting services, and thus should be valued accordingly for conservation. However, cultural services have not yet been adequately integrated within the ecosystem service framework and are generally excluded from economic evaluations, a fact raising ethical issues with respect to their relative evaluation.


KEY WORDS: Fame · Famon · Goldfish · Carassius auratus · Darwin · Ecosystem services · Cultural services


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Cite this article as: Stergiou KI (2017) The most famous fish: human relationships with fish as inferred from the corpus of online English books (1800-2000). Ethics Sci Environ Polit 17:9-18. https://doi.org/10.3354/esep00173

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