Wet behind the ears


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Wet behind the ears'?

Naive.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Wet behind the ears'?

The allusion is to the inexperience of a baby, so recently born as to be still wet.

This phrase was in circulation in the USA in the early 20th century – twenty years before it was first recorded elsewhere. The converse of the phrase – ‘dry back of the ears’, was also known in the USA from around the same date. That was recorded in the American Dialect Society’s Dialect Notes IV, 1914:

“Dry back of the ears, mature; – of persons.”

The earliest citation I can find for ‘wet behind the ears’ is from the Portsmouth Daily Times, October 1911:

“There is not much in the matter so far as the organ [the courthouse record] is concerned except it is so new that it is wet behind the ears yet”.

Trend of wet behind the ears in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.