Wet - whet

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Wet and whet form one of the sets of homophones listed by the then Poet Laureate Robert Bridges (for more, see Bridges homophones). (AWE has a category listing our articles on each of these.)

These two near-homophones are indistinguishable in a southern British accent (see W - Wh). Consequently they are sometimes confused in spelling.

  • The adjective wet means 'affected by water, or other liquids'. 'To wet' is a verb meaning 'to make wet', 'to add liquid to', 'topour liquid onto, or into'. To wet one's whistle' is 'to drink [either alcoholic or not]'. This phrase has been usaed since at least the time of Chaucer.
  • 'To whet means 'to put an edge on', 'to sharpen.' Literally, a farmer might whet a scythe, or a soldier might whet a sword. Both might use (and archaeologists often find) a whetstone. Now 'to whet is mostly used figuratively, to mean to 'put an edge on', or increase, 'one's appetite, wit, etc.'

The difference between these two is that to whet means 'to sharpen', while to wet means 'to dampen'. (One might take some fresh air (or alcoholic drink) to whet one's appetite; but too much of the latter might wet it, or in other words drown it, or reduce it.) So to write the wrong one because your spelling is poor may reverse your intended meaning.

Categories: Bridges homophones | Homophones | W - wh homophones | Bridges II