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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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huss a vernacular name for some dogfish which has been a source of puzzlement. Dawn and Douglas Nelson (1980) may have been the first to work out just how the name came into being.

The English common names of the small sharks known as dogfish are confusing. Living in Kent and having the opportunity to talk with old French fishermen, we think that we have a little light to shed on the matter, so far as the mysterious name ‘huss’ is concerned. In … North Atlantic Seafood (1979) … Davidson links it with the larger-spotted dogfish, Scyliorhinus stellaris. In our examination of Kent catches over the years we have concluded that both S. Stellaris and S. canicula (the lesser-spotted dogfish) were simply called ‘dogs’, but that the ‘spur-dog’, Squalus acanthius, was known because of its viviparous habits as a ‘nurse dog’. This was shorted to ‘a Nurse’, which was pronounced in the markets as ‘a Nuss’, which the fishmongers thought was ‘an Uss’, with the result that they labelled the fish simply ‘Uss’. When these fish got to London the highly educated Billingsgate porters assumed that the ignorant Kentish men had dropped an ‘h’, which they restored by changing ‘Uss’ to ‘Huss’. We think that this is the origin of the name. In the last 20 years or so, however, we have noted that, while most of the dogfish sold in the market at Folkestone are still labelled ‘Uss’, and later, when sold in the shops, ‘Huss’, these are often lesser-spotted dogs (S. canicula) and not spur-dogs. So the name may have been moving from one species to another as their abundance in the catch changes.