Man, do we love ourselves a good fish fry. The Lenten tradition began in predominantly Roman Catholic areas where communities, abstaining from meat on Fridays, would come together to batter and fry fish. Most often associated with the Midwest, these meals have their own rituals, recipes, and cultural history rich enough to fill an entire book. But all that aside, we’ve stumbled across a pesky question: What’s the plural of fish fry—fish frys or fish fries?
Crux—“a news site dedicated to offering the very best in smart, wired and independent coverage of the Vatican and the Catholic Church”—dove into the question last month. Like us, Crux’s editors went straight to the Associated Press Stylebook, a grammar and style bible for journalists (to keep the religious metaphor going here). Unfortunately, there’s no entry specifying fish frys or fish fries. Crux ultimately defers to Webster’s New World dictionary’s entry: fish fries.
Yet, doesn’t that sound like a fry made of fish? A chicken-fry knockoff, calling to mind images of fish sticks?
We put the question to our own panel of experts.
First up, Carol Deptolla, dining critic at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. We figured a Wisconsin dining authority would provide a help answer. She tells The Takeout the paper’s style guide specifies the plural as “fish fries.” She did add, however: “But don’t let that stop you.”
Next up, Jenny Pfafflin, Takeout contributor and founder of the informal fish-fry enthusiast group, the Chicago Lenten Fish Fry Club: “I have leaned toward ‘fish frys’ because it showcases itself as its own thing, if that makes sense.”
It does indeed.
We then posed the question to Laura M. Browning, executive editor at The A.V. Club and a board member at ACES: The Society For Editing. “I would need to look into this,” she tells The Takeout. “My gut says that ‘fish frys’ is probably how they’re spelled on supper club signs and such, and if that’s the case, there’d be an argument for using the same form that everybody is already using. And there’s also an argument to be made that ‘fish frys’ distinguishes it from ‘fish cut and fried in the shape of french fries.’ On the other hand, grammar rules.”
Lastly, we consulted Benjamin Dreyer, copy chief of Random House and author of Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. We reached out to him via Twitter:
This is hardly consensus. Grammatically, it seems “fish fries” is preferable, but “fish frys” more clearly conveys the specific concept to which we are referring. It seems on the question of fish-fry grammar, there’s no sole answer, so we’ll continue to mullet over. We’ll get back to you with an official declaration, hope-filet soon.
The A.V. Club, like The Takeout, is owned by Univision Communications.