What Does Wet Behind The Ears Mean?

Wet Behind the Ears Meaning

Definition: Inexperienced; immature.

Origin of Wet Behind the Ears

This expression comes from the early 1900s. The idea behind it is that the last place to dry on a newborn calf or colt is the indentation behind the ears.

If a calf is still wet behind the ears, it has just recently been born. In other words, when applying this to humans, someone who is wet behind the ears is young, inexperienced, and immature.

An early use of this phrase was in J. F. Straker’s 1962 novel A Coil of Rope:

  • You’re still wet behind the ears, darling. It’s time you grew up.

Examples of Wet Behind the Ears

wet behind the ears idiom meaningIn this example, two sisters are talking about the younger sister’s new job.

Amy: I really want everyone to respect me at my new job.

Kimberly: They will, eventually.

Amy: Right now they won’t let me do anything on my own. They are constantly supervising every little thing I do.

Kimberly: Well, you just graduated, and this is your first job ever. They think you’re still wet behind the ears, and they’re right. The best skills come from experience, not school. It doesn’t matter if you were the best in your class. You still have to prove you actually have the practical ability as well. Once you show them you know what you are doing, they will accept you.

Amy: I hope you’re right.

what does the expression wet behind the ears meanIn the second example, two friends are on a camping trip.

Keira: What are you doing! Stop immediately!

Rory: What’s wrong? I was just about to eat these mushrooms I found.

Keira: You can’t eat those. Those are toxic!

Rory: Are you sure?

Keira: Yes! That mushroom is so deadly that the name is actually destroying angel.

Rory: Oh, that does sound bad.

Keira: What were you thinking?

Rory: I was thinking that we had been camping for a few days, and that I was pretty good at surviving out in the woods. I guess I was overconfident.

Keira: Yeah. A few days is not long at all. You’re still wet behind the ears. You have a lot to learn about outdoor skills, and mushroom identification can take years!

More Examples

This excerpt is about the homeless population in New York and the inexperienced and inadequate support they get.

So it was that a Daily News reporter watched two wet-behind-the-ears city “outreach” workers leave on the sidewalk — on a night that the temperature dropped well below freezing — a bundled-up panhandling woman who claimed to be pregnant. –New York Daily News

This excerpt is about an Olympic athlete who has no experience being on TV.

Turns out that even on land, Ryan Lochte is still a little wet behind the ears when it comes to the TV game. –New York Daily News


The phrase wet behind the ears means that a person is a novice at something.