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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.

  • 3
    "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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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
1

Not sure it would be used with the same meaning here... But in french a 'wet hen' (poule mouillée) is common expression for a wuss or a weakling...

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In the film Waterloo (1970), the Duke of Wellington (Christopher Plumber) when pressed by one of his officers to address a new threat, says the following:

I do not care to run around like a wet hen. There'll be plenty of time, sir. Plenty of time.

Also in the book The Secret War (M.F.W. Curran)- Page 314

I for one will not run around like a wet hen waiting to be caught.

The implied meaning (for me) is someone who runs around in a panic, not really knowing what they are doing. I think it is similar to the expression headless chicken.

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All I know is all of my female West Texas relatives, including my mom , her sister, her mother and all my Aunts used the expression "madder than a wet hen" to mean furiously angry. Expressed by the Webb women, who tended to sound like a bunch of hens when they got together, gabbing away, the expression was always extremely evocative.My Great Aunt Marie even cackled like a chicken. I could easily visualize exactly what a wet hen looked like. Not the chicken kind, though, a wet hen is an angry woman.

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