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Dry Run

Posted by ESC on January 26, 2000

In Reply to: Dry Run posted by Bob on January 26, 2000

: : : : What is the origin of this phrase? I've looked high and low on the net and can't find a thing. . . Any thoughts?

: : : "Dry run - The very first dry runs were creeks ('cricks' in many parts of the country) that had dried up in the summer's drought. As long ago as 1845 explorers of the Rocky Mountains wrote of following up a 'dry run' for a couple of miles until, over a ridge, it 'turned into a running branch.' Another kind of dry run was originally a theatrical expression and meant a rehearsal. In 1941, 'American Speech' magazine defined 'dry run' as 'practice, a dress rehearsal.' ." From the "Morris Dictionary of Words and Phrase Origins" by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 1977).

: : In the theatrical usage of the phrase, why 'dry'?

: : Gary

: I haven't found anything either, so this is pure speculation: a 'dry run' was applied less to a full dress rehearsal than to a run-through, or technical rehearsal. (Of course this was back when I was directing plays, during the last ice age.) A full dress rehearsal was an attempt to simulate opening-night conditions. Whether it's a technical rehearsal (where you stop to correct problems) or a full dress rehearsal (where you carry on as if there were an audience) ... a "dry run" is still not the same as interacting with a responsive audience. It is, from a performer's perspective, a little bloodless. Unfulfilling. No laughter, no applause. Could this be the origin of "dry"? Just guessin'.

Mr. and Mrs. Morris list some details about the different kinds of theatrical "dry runs," similar to what Bob said. However, they are silent on why rehearsals would be "dry." I found more details on "dry run" from "Fighting Words: From War, Rebellion, and other Combative Capers" by Christine Ammer (NTC Publishing Group, Chicago, Ill., 1989): "dry run. A rehearsal or practice exercise. This term comes from World War II, when it was used for a practice bombing flight in which no bombs were actually dropped. After the war it was transferred to numerous civilian undertakings, as in "Bill decided to make a dry run to the hospital so he'd know the way when his wife went into labor." All this reminded me of another expression, "milk run - a routine supply flight; (hence) a regularly scheduled flight of any kind; (later) a shuttle flight." From the "Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, H-O" by J.E. Lighter (Random House, New York, 1997). Also I found a sexual meaning for "dry run," but I'll leave that to the imagination.