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I work on an Oceanic language that has a specific word for the appearance of wet hair - 'ngengere'. It can apply to people just emerged from water or having put on a lot of hair oil, or wet dogs, or even a wet bird. Have I missed a word in English that grasps this idea?

N.B. 'wet-hair look' I think is not useful - that's more of a fashion term. 'Bedraggled' in my mind weights a value of 'dejected' rather than maintaining a neutral descriptive tone. I'm not so keen on 'plastered' or 'matted' either.

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  • ah, why not just say "wet hair" or "wet feathers / fur"? Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 1:00
  • No, it needs to be 'the appearance of wet hair', like the way it hangs and sticks to your scalp or your body. Just 'being wet' is different (and doesn't capture someone who uses a lot of hair oil). It may well be that there is no single word English gloss.
    – IanS
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 1:09
  • Usually "slick" is used, as in "rain slickened hair".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 1:09
  • Ok, slick is a fair candidate. But does it connote an attempt at being stylish (like a 1940s Brylcreem man)? Can a wet dog or bird also be slick?
    – IanS
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 1:13
  • "Slick" refers to the appearance, regardless of the reason for that appearance.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 1:16

4 Answers 4

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The adjective I would use is slick:

Smooth, glossy, and slippery

This word is considered to be positive when used to describe hair. (You can observe this by looking at the results for "slick hair" which tell you how to get the look.)

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  • hmmm, where have you seen it used in a positive context? I've always thought slick hair implied 'being slick' which isn't so slick :)) Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 1:23
  • Ok, I've looked 'slick' up in the Shorter OED: "slick - 1. To render smooth or glossy; to polish ... 2. To make (skin, hair, etc.) sleek or glossy, esp. by some special treatment.". There is also a U.S. derivative along the lines of 'neat and tidy', and I think that is the one I'm leery of. 'Slick' is possible but to me it still seems to glance off into something cosmetic rather than naturally happening.
    – IanS
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 1:24
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I suggest sodden:

heavy with or as if with moisture or water

Sodden can also describe someone who's had too much to drink; however, since you're referencing hair, I don't think that there will be any confusion.

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How about sleek, glossy, or shiny?

sleek: (of hair, fur, or skin) smooth and glossy (Google)

glossy: having a surface luster or brightness

shiny: having a smooth glossy surface

May not seem wet enough, but wet hair is sleek, glossy, and shiny ... although so are many other things. :-)

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  • Wet hair is indeed sleek, glossy and shiny (as long as your hair isn't the frizzy type found in, say, Melanesia) - but not only aren't they 'wet enough' as you say (I like that!), somehow none of these conjure up the 'stuck down' look of hair that is sodden (a word suggested earlier by @vanderpn) with water or hair oil. However your suggestions do have the advantage of being neutral descriptions and don't connote the contrived style of slick.
    – IanS
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 3:12
  • @IanS Right now I'm whetting my whistle with one last margarita. Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 3:33
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I would suggest "glistening".

Glisten
VERB [NO OBJECT]

(of something wet or greasy) shine with a sparkling light
- ‘his cheeks glistened with tears’

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  • 3
    This would be a better answer if you cited your source.
    – Davo
    Commented Apr 24, 2019 at 14:42
  • Almost, but I don't think it quite captures the idea either. I'm beginning to think we don't quite have the word in English that captures the wet, pasted-down look of wet hair or over-oiled hair without going to 'sodden' or 'slick', or describing the way light plays on it (glossy, shiny, glistening).
    – IanS
    Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 1:40

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