A muskellunge walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Why the long face?” The muskie says “Because you guys messed up my name!” The bartender ducks below the counter because it’s about to get ugly.

Some people have heard of a muskellunge, or at least have heard of it by the name muskie. Others have not, or at least not until they had a muskie lunge at them. Or more likely read a story about someone who had a muskellunge lunge at them.

Muskellunge do lunge muscularly! They’re ambush predators. But they rarely attack people. Not never, but not often. They prefer smaller things: muskrats, rats, frogs, ducks, and other fish.

Oh, yes, a muskellunge is a fish. It’s a popular sport fish, owing to the fact that they’re big enough to do some damage: typically two to four feet long (in 2000, someone caught one weighing more than 60 pounds – nearly 28 kilograms – in Georgian Bay). They live mostly in the Great Lakes area of North America, though they have been introduced to some other parts of the continent for the entertainment of the rod-and-reel set.

A muskie is like a northern pike – a big, ugly one. In fact, that’s how it got its name (nothing to do with lunging at muskrats). In English we now say the name as three syllables (or two, if you just say muskie), but it used to be four; we got it from French masque allongé, which means ‘long face’ (see joke above). But…

masque allongé is an eggcorn, like sparrowgrass for asparagus: it’s a reconstrual of a word as something made of more recognizable bits. The word entered French as manskinongé. It came from Ojibwe ma:škino:še: (also spelled maashkinoozhe), from ma:š ‘ugly’ and kino:še:northern pike’.

Apparently the dark bodies with light markings that real northern pike have are prettier than the silver, brown, or green bodies with stripes and spots that muskellunge present. But I wouldn’t say so in front of one of them.

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