Saturday, 9 April 2016

Too Fluid

I remember as a child being exhorted to plunge into some bitterly cold ocean or other, by adults who, as they waded in ahead of me, appeared to be rapidly turning blue.

Small though I was, it struck me that there was something odd about the adults' attempts to lure me into the water with them. The phrase "Don't be so wet" - or, to begin with, more kindly, "Don't be so wet, darling" - rang back at me through the icy air.

Get wet to prove you are not wet - even aged five that seemed a puzzling proposal.

I wonder now where that particular notion of wetness, as in feebleness and weakness, came from? And does it still exist? Do people still tell children that "wet" is a state that they ought to avoid? Does the concept exist in other languages or is it something peculiar to Britain? And why was it wet not to get into the ocean but also wet to scream blue murder, as I did, when, having consented to enter a much warmer ocean in quite a different part of the planet, I was attacked by a Portuguese Man o'War jellyfish?

Wetness and weakness - I suppose there is a logic to the entangling of these two concepts, if you take solidity to be a metaphor for toughness. On the other hand, fluid is far from feeble, as any houseowner who has dealt with a flood will tell you. The kind of force that a battering ram can produce is immediately visible, but the strength of wetness, while not instantly noticeable, is greater than you might imagine. Hidden, out of sight, seeping silently beneath foundations, it can destroy as effectively as any solid object - and with a quieter, more insidious power.

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