wet behind the ears


Alternative formsEdit


c. 1850, Pennsylvania, calque from German feucht hinter den Ohren.[1][2]

From the drying of amniotic fluid on a baby after birth, specifically a new-born farm animal, which last dries behind the ears (partly because licked dry by mother everywhere else).[2][3] German variants (still wet behind the ears, not yet dry behind the ears, green behind the ears) also borrowed.[1]


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wet behind the ears

  1. (idiomatic) Inexperienced; just beginning; immature (especially in judgment).
    • 1903, "The Boy Whose Parents Wanted Him to Be Useful," Chicago Tribune, 2 Aug., p. B2 (retrieved 5 Oct 2010):
      [They would put] their hands behind their ears and pat the top of their heads to taunt me with the fact that I was still wet behind the ears and soft on top of the head.
    • 1950, Roger Appleton, "Police to End Teen-Age Gambling: Strike at Pool Hall Hangouts," Ottawa Citizen (Canada), 13 Jan., p. 18 (retrieved 5 Oct 2010):
      Every week day, pool rooms are filled with scores of boys still "wet behind the ears" who have no business anywhere but in the classroom.
    • 1991, Dick Thompson, "The Man with the Plan," Time, 15 July:
      Now, here was the freshly minted FDA commissioner, still wet behind the ears at 39.
    • 2004, Jarrett Bell, "Bengals' Kitna 'classy' about losing job to Palmer," USA Today, 8 Sept. (retrieved 5 Oct 2010):
      "These young whippersnappers are still wet behind the ears."

Usage notesEdit

  • This expression is usually hyphenated when placed before the noun it modifies.





  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Green behind the ears": the untold story, Ben Zimmer, Language Log, October 15, 2008
  2. 2.0 2.1 Americanisms, Maximilian Schele de Vere, 1872, pp. 146–147: “the German fancifully notices that newly-born animals are apt to be licked dry promptly everywhere except behind the ears, and hence their colloquial phrase: ‘The youngster is not dry yet behind his ears.’ The expression having become familiar to American ear in Pennsylvania first, has from thence spread to other States also.”
  3. ^ “a newly born animal, as a colt or a calf, on which the last spot to become dry after birth is the little depression behind either ear,” Charles Earle Funk, 1948, A Hog On Ice.