Note in a bottle
Dear WD: Hiya! In my leisurely quest for the answer to the question “Where did the idiom ‘wet behind the ears’ originate?”, I happily landed on your Web page, and thought I’d take a moment to write you. I’m still searching for the answer to my question. If you happen to know, or care to find out for me, I’d appreciate your response. — Anonymous.
You know, just today I came across a copy of a now-famous New Yorker cartoon from a few years ago. Two dogs are sitting in front of a computer, one saying to the other, “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.” I just thought I’d point out that this “Anonymous” business raises a whole slew of suspicions.
Then again, if you’re looking for actual answers on the Web, you must be far too patient to be a dog. I have come to the conclusion that the Web, otherwise known as the World Wide Waste of Time, is fundamentally useless and may well turn out to be the Pet Rock of the 1990s. Of course, I like to think this page is an exception to the general vapidity of the medium. But then I imagine that all those folks who post detailed synopses of their favorite “Gilligan’s Island” episodes on the Web feel the same about their pages.
“Wet behind the ears,” meaning inexperienced or naive, comes to us from the wonderful world of baby farm animals. It seems that the last part of a newborn horse or cow (“foal” and “calf” to the cognoscenti) to dry out after birth is the area behind the little critter’s ears. Thus, to say that someone is “wet behind the ears” is a folksy way of saying that they lack the experience or savvy necessary to accomplish a task. The first published use of “wet behind the ears” in print dates only to the early 20th century, but most authorities believe that the phrase itself is much older than that and, like many folk sayings, was used in popular speech long before anyone used it in print.