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“Peeves, get down here NOW!” barked Professor McGonagall, straightening her pointed hat and glaring upward through her square-rimmed spectacles.

“Not doing nothing!” cackled Peeves, lobbing a water bomb at several fifth-year girls, who screamed and dived into the Great Hall. “Already wet, aren’t they? Little squirts! Wheeeeeeeeee!” And he aimed another bomb at a group of second years who had just arrived.

(p172, Harry Potter 4, US edition)

NBPeeves is a mischievous ghost floating in the air.

I’ve lost track of the logical flow of ‘Already wet, aren’t they? Little squirts!’ There are some questions swirling in my mind: Who are they? Who is he talking to? What are little squirts (water bombs or children)?

I’d like to know the meaning and enjoy the lively atmosphere of the scene.

It’d be nice if you could help me!

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3  
In JK Rowling's vernacular, wet probably just means weak,timid. She learned her vocabulary in decades when the word was habitually applied to Tory politicians who didn't have the balls to stand up to Margaret Thatcher in Cabinet, such as Frances Pym...independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/… –  FumbleFingers Jun 23 '11 at 6:22
    
@FumbleFingers – Hi! Thank you for the tip. Your comment is convincing to me because Peeves is saying the line soon after the girls dived into the Great Hall. I can take in the logic more smoothly. –  user7493 Jun 24 '11 at 2:34

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

First, some definitions:

  • In UK slang, wet means weak, wimpy, pathetic, spineless. This sort of thing is (or was) commonly heard in schools:

    Don't be so wet!, or

    I can't believe you won't climb the wall with us. Girls are so wet!

  • A little squirt is also slang: it's a mildly insulting term for a small, insignificant person (usually a child).

So, the quote: "Already wet, aren't they?" is playing on the two meanings of "wet" - they're already wet (spineless), so it doesn't matter if we get them wet (with water). (This is more likely than the pure literal interpretation of "wet", coming immediately after the stereotypically girly "wet" behaviour of screaming and running away - Peeves's comment is in direct response to this, hence the aren't they question tag.) And similarly the little squirts also refers to the girls, in a similar act of insulting wordplay (squirt=small person; squirt=jet of water).

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I wonder if this definition of "wet" is related to "wet behind the ears," meaning new or inexperienced. –  KitFox Jun 23 '11 at 15:59
    
@Kit – I think you have a point. Anyone will be more or less weak when he experiences new things. Yes. –  user7493 Jun 24 '11 at 2:34
    
@psmears – Thank you for the answer! I’m afraid… would you mind explaining the two meanings of ‘wet’again? They are already wet(spineless) and what? Peeves’s running off(spineless)? I’m a little confused. –  user7493 Jun 24 '11 at 2:35
    
@Kit: I think the 'spineless' sense relates more to the fact that many materials become softer/more pliable/soggy when wet. Biscuits, cardboard, and starched shirts, for example. Nothing to do with newborn babies and associated metaphorical use. –  FumbleFingers Jun 24 '11 at 2:55
2  
@totoro: The two meanings of "wet" are "wet" (spineless - British informal - let's call this sense 1) and the usual meaning of "wet" (covered or soaked with water - call this sense 2). He is making a joke, by saying that it doesn't matter if he throws a water bomb at them (which will make them wet), because they're already wet - the joke is that the first wet in this sentence is in sense 2, and the second is in sense 1. Does that make sense? I fear I have killed the joke by explaining in it too much detail :) –  psmears Jun 24 '11 at 9:29

It seems nobody has bothered to post the most obvious, and probably most likely, interpretation: already wet refers to the fact that it's pouring rain outside, so the girls — who just came from outside — are probably sodden; and little squirts is a mildly disparaging term for children, as well as being a slight play on words because squirt as a verb means to spray water.

(In case it's not obvious, both phrases refer to the girls, and Peeves is kind of talking to himself — narrating his own actions, as it were.)

There's really nothing all that complicated going on in this passage, language-wise. To call the peeing interpretation "far-fetched" is a massive understatement.

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1  
I'm not convinced that this is the most likely interpretation: Peeves's comment comes right after the girls scream and run off (typically "wet" behaviour), and he seems to be commenting on this - and the little squirts serves to emphasise his opinion of the girls. (This use of wet is an entirely normal idiom in the UK, but I'm guessing it's far less common in the US?). But I agree that your interpretation is far more plausible than the urine-related one :) –  psmears Jun 23 '11 at 16:46
    
Totally agree. Certainly that was the only interpretation that came to mind when I read the book (many moons ago). I guess I'm just not cut out for literary analysis (certainly wasn't cut out for it at school). –  John Bartholomew Jun 23 '11 at 18:01
    
What happened to my .1% chance? (Congrats on 10K, BTW) –  Callithumpian Jun 23 '11 at 18:37
    
@Callithumpian – Better luck next time! (I’m sorry I didn’t show you enough contexts to answer. The rain slipped out of my mind for some reason. I could kick myself!) –  user7493 Jun 25 '11 at 20:45
    
– Your comment helped me very much and drew people’s attention to my question. Thank you so much! –  user7493 Jun 25 '11 at 20:45

Well, as for the first part:

[The several fifth-year girls are] already wet, aren't they?

And squirt is slang for a small or insignificant person, but to squirt is to shoot water on, so there's a subtle play on words here.

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3  
or not so subtle ;) –  mplungjan Jun 23 '11 at 5:34
    
– I was very happy you readily answered my question. And thank you for joining the discussion. –  user7493 Jun 25 '11 at 20:48

They is referring to the girls. Already wet implies they have already wet themselves from fright, before being wet by the balloons. Little squirts is referring again to the girls but with a play on the word squirt which can mean both:

a thin stream or small quantity of liquid ejected from something

(like pee) and,

a person perceived to be insignificant, impudent, or presumptuous

There is another play on Wheeeeeeeeee!, too, which can be an exclamation of delight as well as:

wee-wee
a child's word for urine

blockquotes from NOAD

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1  
I don't think there's any implication they've wet themselves from fright. I think he just had good aim. –  Jon Purdy Jun 23 '11 at 5:22
1  
@Jon: Except water bombs/balloons don't squirt, they explode. The play on words doesn't seem to work without at least partial urination. –  Callithumpian Jun 23 '11 at 5:31
3  
I think this answer could very well be correct. For sure not deserving a downvote. However it has been raining outside: Goblets of Fire –  mplungjan Jun 23 '11 at 5:35
4  
I frankly do not believe JK Rowling would even consider alluding to involuntary bladder evacuation due to fear, let alone actually write it (and get it past the Bloomsbury the publishers, who are not exactly known for this type of toilet humour). –  FumbleFingers Jun 23 '11 at 6:16
4  
I'm 99.9% sure that the "already wet" refers to the rain pouring outside, and that Rowling would be ... amused to hear the peeing interpretation. –  Marthaª Jun 23 '11 at 16:04

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