Where does this expression “wet behind the ears” come from? Perhaps some SDoper can share with us?
“The allusion is to the inexperience of a baby, so recently born as to be still wet.”
That does nothing to explain why it is “behind the ears,” rather than wet anywhere else, and since your link merely asserts this derivation, without any argument or evidence, I am not at all convinced by it.
Because the area behind the ears dries later than other parts of the body.
But it’s an idiom. It’s does not require an explanation: the phrase is used because both speaker and listener understand that it means “young and inexperienced.”
A quick google search gives 1,260,000 hits for “wet behind the ears” and 256,000 for “still wet behind the ears”, showing that the latter form is a fairly common version of the phrase.
Anyone with experience with water knows that unless specifically targeted in whatever drying process you utilise the fold behind the ear is one of the areas that stays wet the longest. Together with the meaning of the idiom, “someone who is young and inexperienced”, this is the best available evidence for it refering to babies and amniotic fluid.
In Norwegian the expression is normally prased as “not yet dry behind the ears”, and we also have the eloquent “born yesterday and dried by (or in) the oven” for the young and inexperienced.
Babies definitely stay wet behind the ears at birth longer than any other place, if not specifically dried there. I’d round on newborns I delivered 24 hours or so after birth, and saw some significant moisture (and vernix) still there on some of them.
Compare this to the Quebecois slang: “Jaune”, applied (at least for a time in the past) to novice police officers. Literally translated, it means yellow, but the derivation is said to be that of baby feces, which is yellow for the first few days (or more) of life.
I would have assumed it was derived form neonatal jaundice, which seems to make more sense than referring to a person by the colour of their faeces. Of course since they’re talking about cops, maybe that was an intentional insult.
OK, so that is about 2/3 of the Straight Dope (both boards and Cecil’s columns) that can be deleted, I guess.
Newborn poop is black- with just a vague idea of green- for the first few days. I was warned excessively about this by nurses and other parents before seeing it myself, because apparently it freaks a lot of new parents out.
Yeah, not sure where the “yellow poop” idea came from. Newborns have black poop, which starts to gradually become yellow(ish) over the course of a week or two, as milk is digested. The black poop newborns have is called meconium.
I’ve never heard this. Anyone have?
Are you sure it’s not ‘Jeune’? (= Young, inexperienced). Possibly a word-play on some aspect of their uniform?
It’s jaune. I last saw it used in Trevanian’s novel, “The Main”.
You’re overlooking an important distinction here (I believe due to Saussure) between synchrony and diachrony. Of course in contemporary English the meaning of the phrase is idiomatic and needn’t be a function of the meaning of its parts. But the OP’s question was about the origin of the expression. Idioms don’t emerge spontaneously; their history can in principle be researched, and argued over on the basis of logic and evidence.