[Ads-l] New to me: _wet signature_

Mon May 2 11:16:35 UTC 2016

As a lawyer, I do work in this area.  The article to which Benjamin links is a somewhat accurate guide.

Essentially, a "wet signature" is an original signature, the kind that is traditionally done with a pen on paper.  It is more traditionally referred to as a manual signature.  However, "wet signature" is now used in statutes and regulations, and it has become almost as popular as "manual signature."  The earliest example of "wet signature" that I see is from a 1990 ruling of the Comptroller General of the United States (the head of what was then known as the General Accounting Office and is now the General Accountability Office, an oversight agency that reports to the U.S. Congress), In Re Bird Construction, 1990 WL 278499 (Comp. Gen. Sept. 19, 1990):

"It is of no consequence that the facsimile copy of the bond Bird submitted with its bid contained Bird's original “wet signature” since the bond did not contain the original signature of the surety, creating serious doubt about the liability of the surety which could be resolved only by referring to documents submitted after bid opening."

Note that there are two requirements for a signature to be "wet."  First, it must be generated physically and not electronically.  Second, it must be the original and not a photocopy, fax, or other reproduction.

In general, under the Uniform Commercial Code signatures include "any symbol executed or adopted with present intention to adopt or accept a writing."  U.C.C. § 1-201(b)(37).  This would include, for example, a name affixed to a telegram.  Prior to 2000, it was generally a matter of state law whether a particular document required a manual signature or could instead be signed in some other manner.  However, the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, often referred to as "ESIGN," was passed in 2000 and preempts other laws that may require manual signatures, unless they fall within one of several exemptions (e.g., states can still require wills to be manually signed).  Documents subject to the Uniform Commercial Code generally are controlled by the UCC rather than by ESIGN, but the UCC has similar provisions.

ESIGN provides that "The term "electronic signature" means an electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record."  ESIGN § 106(5), 15 U.S.C. § 7006(5).  That has generally been a workable definition, but breaks down when applied to automatically generated signature blocks in email, such as the one that my firm uses, below.  (I usually edit this out for ADS-L posts, but am leaving it in for purposes of illustration.)  

The linked article also talks about "digital signatures."  Contrary to the article, a digital signature is not necessarily a signature at all.  It is simply an electronic verification of the authenticity of a document.

John M. Baker
Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, LLP
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-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Benjamin Barrett
Sent: Monday, May 2, 2016 12:04 AM
Subject: Re: New to me: _wet signature_

New to me; definitely a useful retronym. Here’s a page that describes the differences between [I just can’t do “among” in situations like this] wet, electronic and digital signatures:


Benjamin Barrett
Formerly of Seattle, WA

> On 1 May 2016, at 20:54, Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> "Wet signature" means that an actual signature in blue or black ink is
> necessary. A photocopy will not suffice.
> Of course, the term once had a literal meaning:
> Illustrated Naval and Military Magazine: A Monthly Journal ... Page 70
> https://books.google.com/books?id=pQ4AAAAAMAAJ
> 1885 - Read
> The clerk returned with the letter signed, blotted the still-wet signature,
> folded up and directed the reply, and silently handed it to its bearer, who
> almost as silently wended his way to the quarters of his Chief in the Royal
> Arsenal.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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