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She walks in front of you on the road, limbs too long for her dress, gait clumsy and yet graceful, like that of a newborn deer. She has the charm of a little girl with pigtails and missing teeth, but you know she is not a girl. She's a bud about to break out into womanhood. She's in a state of transition.

What do you call a girl like that?

In 1920s Germany, a curious term evolved to describe such a girl. She was called a Backfisch. Literally, it means fried fish. The word spread from Germany to many other parts of the world under its cultural influence, like the Scandinavian countries. I first encountered it in Joanne Harris's book Five Quarters of the Orange, where it is used by a German soldier. The German never attempts to catch the girl he is calling a backfisch - but he eyes her, hungrily.

The word becomes eerily apposite if you think about it. The fish you fry does not have a lot of meat, it consists mainly of skin and bones. On the other hand, it is a delicious little mouthful, only enough to feed one, and barely, at that.

You should let her go, in all her innocence. Toss her out again to grow into a beautiful rainbow trout or a sleak, silvery herring. That is the right thing to do.

Yet deep within you there is the voice of a cat, calling out in sensual tones: Come and play... come and plaaaay...

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