What does the idiom "wet behind the ears" mean?

Idioms are generally defined as groups of words that form a meaningful whole when they come together, even though the words in them do not make sense on their own. They have produced many idioms according to their own cultural characteristics in communities using the English language. What does wet behind the ears mean? In what situations is wet behind the ears used?

Meaning of "wet behind the ears"

Meaning

The idiom ‘wet behind the ears’ is used to describe someone who is inexperienced, naïve and unaware of how the world works. It suggests that this person is still new to the given situation and needs guidance to understand what is happening.

Etymology

The phrase ‘wet behind the ears’ originates from around 1615 in the form ‘wee and wet behind the eares’. It is believed to be derived from the description of newborn animals and babies, who are often wet from birthing fluids. The phrase ‘wet behind the ears’ was first recorded in 1775 and became widespread in the mid-1800s.

Usage

The phrase ‘wet behind the ears’ is used to describe someone who is new to a certain situation or environment, often implying that they need guidance. The phrase can be used in both a serious and joking manner, and can be seen as both an insult or a sign of affection depending on the context. The phrase is often used to refer to a young person, but can be used in other contexts too.

Example Sentences

  • “They’re still wet behind the ears and have a lot to learn about the industry.”
  • “He may be wet behind the ears but he’s got so much potential!”
  • “Oh come on, you’re not so wet behind the ears that you don’t know the answer to that question!”

The meanings of the words in the "wet behind the ears" idiom

The Surprising Origins of Everyday English Idioms

Many English idioms have surprisingly dark origins, often rooted in violence, death, and superstition. For instance, the phrase "raining cats and dogs" is said to have originated in the 17th century, when heavy rain would often cause dead animals to wash up on the streets. Meanwhile, the idiom "rule of thumb" is believed to have originated from a law that allowed men to beat their wives with a stick no thicker than their thumb.

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