Which Word Wednesday: Wet vs. Whet

By September 5, 2012 language One Comment

Our word quandary for this week’s Which Word Wednesday comes from writer-friend Cori (she can be found at Let’s Eat Grandpa! Punctuation Saves Lives). She mentioned via Facebook that she has recently seen improper usage of wet vs. whet and wondered if I had tackled it here. Nope, I had not—so here it is, Cori!

First, a look at the definitions in The Oxford American Dictionary:

wet :: adjective
covered or saturated with water or another liquid

whet :: verb
sharpen the blade of (a tool or weapon); excite or stimulate (someone’s desire, interest, or appetite)

One is an adjective, the other a verb. One describes a state of being, while the other describes an action. Seems like it should be easy to use them properly. But homophones can be confusing when one word (such as wet) is more common than the other (such as whet).

Most of the trouble comes from using wet when the context calls for whet, as in stimulating appetites. Perhaps people use “wet your appetite” because appetites are associated with eating, and eating is associated with saliva, and saliva is, in fact, wet. Also, we have little exposure to the word whet in our daily lives; it is a fairly uncommon word that is easily overshadowed by its popular homophone.

What’s my WWW verdict? Just remember that appetites, interests, and desires cannot be saturated with liquid—they can be whetted, but they can’t be wet.

What’s your verdict? Do these homophones confuse you? What memory hook do you have to keep them straight? Do share in the comments.

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Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

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