I recently read the story "The Sign of the Four", by Arthur Conan Doyle. In it, one particular phrase stood out:

...rubbing their sleeves across their beards after their morning wet.

I believe it refers to them taking a drink or something. Could it refer to a morning dip perhaps?

Also, where does this phrase originate from? When was it first used,etc.

2 Answers 2


As jwpat7 explained quite well, it refers to a drink of alcohol.

The OED's earliest reference for wet as a noun with the meaning

A drink or draught of some alcoholic beverage; a glass of liquor.

is listed as:

1719 in T. D'Urfey Wit & Mirth V. 125 At Noon he gets up for a wet and to Dine.

I'd imagine it is derived from the expression to wet one's whistle, meaning to drink, which appears as early as the 14th century:

c1386 Chaucer Reeve's Tale 235 So was hir ioly whistle wel y-wet.


Slightly more context makes the meaning clear:

At the square-topped corner public-houses business was just beginning, and rough-looking men were emerging, rubbing their sleeves across their beards after their morning wet.

A public-house, or public house, is "an establishment licensed to sell alcoholic beverages", that is, a tavern, bar, saloon or local ("One's nearest or regularly frequented public house or bar"). That is, the sentence refers to men coming out of a bar after having a pint or two of beer, ale, stout, etc.

I have no information about the origin of the phrase or its first use.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.