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In Terry Pratchett's Discworld books (Witches Abroad in particular), the character Magrat Garlick is often called a "wet hen" by at least one of her witch colleagues.

Web searches only yielded the phrase [to be] "mad as a wet hen". From the description there I think it could mean that she is looking for her "nest", meaning she is trying to get a man, but I am far from certain.

From context in the books I am pretty sure that it does not mean she is mad. She does actually seem quite sane, for a Discworld character anyway.

Here are some quotes for context:

Even Magrat had one [a witch hat], although she hardly ever wore it on account of being a wet hen.

"That's 'cos you're a wet hen, Magrat Garlick," said Granny.

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"Mad" usually means insane in British English - as you've interpreted it - but in American English it almost always means angry. "Mad as a wet hen" does not mean "crazy", it means "extremely angry" (it's probably a euphemism for "mad as hell"). However, Pratchett is using wet hen in a completely different context (see @PapaCharlie9's answer); the American equivalent of this phrase might be wet blanket. –  MT_Head Feb 28 '13 at 20:48

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

In context, I took the phrase to mean dull, drab, a party-pooper.

Then I found this citation:

  • [p. 159/139] "'That's 'cos you're a wet hen, Magrat Garlick,' said Granny."

When questioned about the phrase, Terry explained: "Perfectly good British slang. A 'wet hen' is bedraggled, sad and useless. Probably not as useless as a big girl's blouse, though, and better off than a lame duck."

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So much like a wet blanket, then. –  JAM Feb 28 '13 at 20:37
    
Maggie Thatcher described the only Conservative MP to join the SDP as 'as wet as a Dogger Bank trawler'. Not a common insult, but the meaning is tolerably clear. –  TimLymington Feb 28 '13 at 22:22
    
I think that answer pretty much covers it, thanks! –  dualed Feb 28 '13 at 22:39

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