There’s an old Scottish nursery rhyme that likens wishes to fishes, by saying “if wishes were fishes” For most people, this might seem like a confusing thing to wrap your head around. Luckily, we’re here to talk you through what it means.
What Does “If Wishes Were Fishes We’d All Swim In Riches” Mean?
“If wishes were fishes, we’d all swim in riches” means that wishes are impossible. It’s a Scottish nursery rhyme making fun of the absurdity of wishes, saying that if they were something simple like “fishes,” we would always be able to have them come true.
Scottish children are taught a lot of similar idioms like this when growing up. It helps to keep them in the now and learn more about reality. While the idea of wishes is taught to many people in all cultures, something has to be said for how true they are. Most people already understand that wishes don’t exist and that there isn’t a definite way to grant anyone wishes.
However, the youth of the world are the ones that believe in wishes. It’s a nice thing to teach them, as it teaches them about hope. However, this nursery rhyme goes another way and shows them that wishes aren’t all they seem to be.
If Wishes Were Fishes, We’d All Cast Nets
Let’s look at a few variations to see what we can work out about them. The nursery rhyme comes in many forms. In fact, one of the forms is “if wishes were horses,” so it’s possible to change it however you see fit.
“If wishes were fishes, we’d all cast nets,” tells us that if wishes genuinely existed and were simple like fishes, we’d cast nets into the oceans and lakes to catch them. That way, when we catch the fish, we’ll be able to get all those wishes we’ve ever wanted.
Fishing is common in Scotland and is seen as a traditional way of life to make money. That’s why it’s told to many Scottish children, where their fishermen parents teach them that if fishes granted our deepest desires, then we’d all be swarmed by fishes. Every fisherman in the country would sail out to catch as many fish as they could every day.
It’s another way of teaching children about the absurdity of making wishes. Since wishes are an impossible concept that can’t work, otherwise everyone would make them all the time (and they’d come true).
If Wishes Were Fishes, The World Would Be An Ocean
This variation of the poem follows a very similar idea as the one above. Instead, this time we’re talking about the whole world turning into an ocean.
If the world were an ocean, then fish would be everywhere. We’d want this to be the case every wish was a fish because we could step outside our door and find a fish on our doorstep every single time. That’s why we use this saying to yet again indicate the absurdity of wishes.
As pleasant as the idea of wishes coming true is, the whole concept starts to fall when you begin to grant them to everybody. That’s why sayings like this one exist. It’s saying that if everyone made wishes and all of those wishes came true, then the entire world would turn into an ocean because that’s easiest way for everyone to get their wish.
If Wishes Were Fishes And Cattle Were Kings
The variation that you see above actually comes with a slightly different trend compared to the other two. We’re talking about what would happen if really common things became important and influential things this time. This doesn’t have the same meaning as the two you’ve seen above this.
The whole rhyme is “if wishes were fishes, and cattle were kings, the world would be full of wonderful things.” The idea is that because fishes and cows are in abundance in the world, we would always come across something extraordinary – whether it be a king or a wish.
Since cattle are everywhere on the land and fishes are everywhere in the ocean, you wouldn’t be able to go very far before seeing either a wish or a king. The two are treated in the same manner in this rhyme to indicate the impossibility of the situation. Wishes are something that is granted for people to enjoy. Kings are people that can grant those wishes because they have lots of power and money to do so.
Origin Of The Saying “If Wishes Were Fishes We’d All Swim In Riches”
Now that we’ve touched on the variations, it’s time to visit the origin of the saying. As we’ve mentioned, it comes from a well-known (yet old-fashioned) Scottish nursery rhyme. It teaches children that wishes are impossible and can’t be granted to everyone because that’s not how the world works.
The original rhyme actually includes a line about wishes being horses. In this case, the horses are being ridden by the beggars, because beggars are poor people that would love to have their wishes come true. Along with this line, we see that turnips are swords, meaning everyone would have a turn at their side should they need to defend themselves.
Over time people have started to come up with their own iterations that hold the same meanings. The general idea is always kept the same. For example, “if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride” shows that if a horse granted a wish, even the poorest people in the land would begin to ride them.
There are plenty of other examples that have developed over the years. Each nursery rhyme is designed to teach children how wishes work in the world. While it’s nice on paper to think that wishes exist and will change your life, it’s not something you’ll be able to get done because of the impossibility of them.
Examples Of When To Use The Saying “If Wishes Were Fishes We’d All Swim In Riches”
Of course, we won’t just tell you everything we know about the rhyme. One of the best ways to learn when to use the saying is to see it used in practice. We’ll include some examples of how to use it and when you’ll find the correct times to do so. Hopefully, this will encourage you to start using it yourself.
- Do you think you’re going to win the lottery? Well, if wishes were fishes, we’d all swim in riches.
- I don’t think you’re going to be married by the end of the year, but if wishes were fishes, we’d all swim in riches.
- Remember that if wishes were fishes, we’d all swim in riches. You’re not the only kid who wishes to play on a professional soccer team.
- Do you know how hard it is to be successful in life? If wishes were fishes, we’d all swim in riches.
- Your prayers might not be answered every time since if wishes were fishes, we’d all swim in riches.
- You can’t expect your kids to be perfect at everything. If wishes were fishes, we’d all swim in riches.
- Why do you insist on practicing every day? You won’t be good enough for tryouts. If wishes were fishes, we’d all swim in riches.
- Growing older is hard. I wish I didn’t have to be in pain all the time. But I suppose if wishes were fishes, we’d all swim in riches.
- I wish I were young again. Then again, if wishes were fishes, we’d all swim in riches.
See how in each of these examples, either a wish is made, or someone believes that something good will happen to them. The saying is used to counter this belief and bring these people back to reality before they get their hopes up and inevitably crash. These are the most common situations in which you’ll find someone using the saying.
Side note; you don’t just have to be a Scottish person to use this saying. You can use it anywhere in the world if you’d like to.
Related Scottish Nursery Rhymes
Let’s finish with some related Scottish nursery rhymes that might be of interest to you. There are plenty out there, so we won’t go through them all. However, we’ll touch on the ones turned into sayings or the most popular rhymes out there.
- There once was a girl from Nantucket
- Who crossed the sea in a bucket,
- And when she got there
- They asked for a fare
- So she pulled up her dress and said: “F*ck it!”
This is a common limerick used for children, though the end swear word is often switched out for something safer, like “suck it.”
- There was an old man of the isles
- Who suffered severely from piles
- He couldn’t sit down
- Without a deep frown
- So he had to row standing for misles
Another great limerick that uses a similar rhyming structure. This is how you set up a good nursery rhyme to teach kids about the rhyming patterns of each one.
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.