What Does "Catfish" Mean, And How Did Manti Te'o Get "Catfished?"

Why is everyone talking about “catfish?”

And what does it all mean, for us too unhip to get the term?

Well, let me be your urban dictionary.

Immediately after the “fake girlfriend” story of Manti Te’o broke on Thursday, Notre Dame held a press conference to address the matter. During a press conference, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick likened the alleged hoax perpetrated by at least two individuals on Te'o to the plot of Catfish, a current MTV show based on a documentary released in 2010.

"I would refer all of you, if you're not already familiar with it, with both the documentary called Catfish, the MTV show which is a derivative of that documentary and the sort of associated things you'll find online and otherwise about Catfish or 'catfishing,'" Swarbrick said.

No we are not talking about a freshwater or marine fish with whisker-like barbels around the mouth, typically bottom-dwelling.

Catfish — the movie — is a 2010 documentary film, involving a young man being filmed by his brother and friend as he builds a faux romantic relationship with a young woman on the social networking website Facebook. SPOILER ALERT: The movie ends with the lead characters discovering that the internet relationship they had built with a woman in Michigan has been completely made up. In the movie, the hoax-ster ends up confessing that the online personae that tangled the lead characters in were fragments of her personality enacting fantasies of her life if she had made different choices. The main characters, discussing the issue, explain that when live cod were shipped to Asia from North America, the fish's inactivity in their tanks resulted in mushy flesh, but fishermen found that putting catfish in the tanks with the cod kept them active. Vince feels that people like Angela are "catfish", who keep other people active in life.


Then there is the MTV reality show. Catfish follows internet couples who have never met … all filmed in typical MTV reality form. The twist, of course, is that one of the people involved is fake, probably operating several Facebook accounts and generally being a massive creepster. Everything, of course, is exposed on television in a climatic “gotcha” moment.


Manti Te’o: catfished.

It is still unclear whether Te’o was the victim or the perpetrator in this grand hoax. The Deadspin article which reported the scandal alluded to Te’o knowing the other party and working in tandem with him. Te’o, though, in a statement, has said he was … catfished.

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