Definition of sprat in English:



  • 1A small marine fish of the herring family, widely caught for food and fish products.

    • ‘The catch can consist of eels, cod or sprat but is mainly shrimp and these are sold from Brendon's cottage on the beach.’
    • ‘However, if the diet is extremely rich in fish oils, for example, herring, mackerel, sardines and sprats, it may not be necessary to take hemp oil as well.’
    • ‘Frank Hederman smokes his eels, sprats, mackerel, trout and mussels over beech rather than oak, which gives his products a mild, subtle flavour and makes them just about the best that money can buy.’
    • ‘These minerals also rise abruptly to the surface and the result is a sea rich in plankton and other microfauna, teeming with everything that feeds on them in turn, from sprats and squid to tuna and dolphins.’
    • ‘Clupeid fish, like herring, anchovies, and sprats, can detect sound frequencies up to around 40 kilohertz, way beyond the hearing range of most other fish.’
    • ‘I dropped into the water and was immediately surrounded by a swirling shoal of tiny sprats.’
    • ‘The smoking of salmon, prawns and sprats is done ‘round the back’ and this is the food you should stick to here.’
    • ‘They may disappear for a few weeks in August, before returning with a vengeance to gorge on the sprats.’
    • ‘There is no true sprat in Asian waters, although the name sprat is sometimes loosely applied to certain small fish of the herring family which do occur there.’
    • ‘Commercial fishing includes salmon, herring, cod, plaice, crustaceans and mollusks, mackerel, sprat, eel, lobster, shrimp, and prawns.’
    • ‘There were other fish swimming around among the dead sprat so there was nothing wrong with the quality of the water.’
    • ‘Others say it's the healthy levels of sprat and herring which are providing them with plenty of food.’
    • ‘This shoal of sprats was found within 2m of the steps at Weasel Loch.’
    • ‘Or you can dangle a hopeful, lazy fishing line over the side of waters so plentiful that even I, the world's worst fisherman, managed to catch a sprat.’
    • ‘On it you feel like a sprat swimming beside a whale.’
    • ‘However, they are now firmly identified, at least so far as Britain is concerned, as the fry of various fish of the herring family, but mainly of the herring itself and the sprat.’
    • ‘Maryland scientists are instead trying to rebuild native oyster stocks by building new beds out of shucked oyster shells and seeding them with native sprat, or baby oysters.’
    • ‘As the EU enlarges into the Balkans, the ratio of sprats to sharks will increase.’
    • ‘Marinated Baltic sprats were delicate, their sharp briny taste balanced by an accompanying vinaigrette of potatoes, beetroot, onions, dill pickles, eggs, and mayonnaise.’
    • ‘Often what seems like a shallow reef is actually a shoal of minuscule sprats.’
    1. 1.1 Any of a number of small fishes that resemble the true sprats, e.g. the sand eel.
      • ‘‘Wild puffins normally eat live whitebait, sprats and sand eels which they dive in the sea for,’ said Mrs Platts.’
      • ‘The crabs, which are natural scavengers, are being fed with dead sand eels and sprats.’


[no object]
  • Fish for sprats.

    ‘they were out spratting’
    • ‘After the war, Joe and the ‘Iris Mary’ continued shrimping in the summer and spratting in the winter.’


  • a sprat to catch a mackerel

    • A small outlay or risk ventured in the hope of a significant return.

      • ‘He pointed out the police could have arrested him after the handover in the pub car park but Mr Lithman added: ‘Because the police wanted to use him as a sprat to catch a mackerel he now has to pay an inflated price.’’
      • ‘Rackshack is offering a sprat to catch a mackerel.’
      • ‘We will use what we call leverage - using a sprat to catch a mackerel.’
      • ‘In crude terms, I suppose that one could say that it is a sprat to catch a mackerel, but the message must be got across.’
      • ‘The mobile phone market is a good example of this approach, frequently offsetting the discount on the handset against the profit on its use over an extended contract, using a sprat to catch a mackerel.’
      • ‘Intelligent podcast content can be engineered to drive users to your site/business - a sprat to catch a mackerel in effect.’
      • ‘‘Lenders are only interested in getting your main mortgage business - it's like using a sprat to catch a mackerel,’ he said.’
      • ‘Actually, it's probably a sprat to catch a mackerel since they have plenty more stuff that they haven't made available.’
      • ‘He wondered if this was a sprat to catch a mackerel with the States only picking up £4.7m against £20m that needed spending.’
      • ‘If you use a sprat to catch a mackerel, you make a small expenditure or take a small risk in the hope of a much greater gain.’


Late 16th century: variant of Old English sprot, of unknown origin.