Printable Version
Pronunciation: (h)wet Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. To sharpen, hone. 2. To stimulate, excite, arouse, goad (desire, interest, appetite).

Notes: Did you ever wonder why a stone for sharpening your tool is called a whetstone, when the only thing we ordinarily whet is our appetites? This word has no derivational family, but it may be used as a noun, meaning "something that stimulates desire".

In Play: Whet is seldom used these days in the sense "to sharpen": "After cutting grain all day for a week, Seth's scythe was in serious need of whetting." We encounter it mostly in the sense of "to sharpen some desire": "In a corrupt society, truth can whet the demand for change."

Word History: In Old English today's Good Word was hwettan from Proto-Germanic hwatjan, source also of German wetzen, Swedish vässa, Icelandic hvessa and hvetja, and Danish hvæsse, all meaning "to sharpen". The Proto-Germanic word was inherited from PIE kwed-/kwod- "to sharpen", source also of Sanskrit codati "sharpens, incites". `We find a trace of it almost hidden in Latin triquetrus "three-cornered". Other than in the Germanic languages, the PIE word seems to have died out along the way to the modern Indo-European languages. (Our old friend and long-time contributor Jackie Strauss, Broadcast Pioneer in Philadelphia, suggested we do today's small but fascinating Good Word back in 2019.)

Dr. Goodword,

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