"Dry run" etymology (speculative)

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Fri Jun 25 05:18:58 UTC 2004

Michael Quinion mentioned "dry run" = "rehearsal" recently.

I believe the phrase probably is unrelated to "dry run" = "dry creek". I
also doubt any relationship to dry humping or dry heaves.

The phrase dates from 1940 as a military term, but I believe the origin was
probably related to fire companies.

"Run" or "fire run" refers to the fire company's response to a fire.

There were also simulated fire fighting exercises, also called "runs",
often done as holiday entertainments, and also competition "runs" between
fire companies. Presumably there were also private practice runs.

In the nomenclature of the competition runs, "wet run" meant "run with
water [passed through the hose]", "dry run" meant "run without water" (the
men went through various evolutions, connecting hose, etc.). No surprise.

I speculate that the same terms ("wet run", "dry run") were also used in
fire company jargon outside the competition context.

Here are examples:




_Stevens Point Daily Journal_ (Stevens Point WI), 3 July 1931: p. 1, col. 3:

<<MORNING FIRE RUN / Both fire companies made a run to the Otto Giese home
... this morning.>>

[This one was a real fire run, not an exhibition or competition run.]


_Sheboygan Press_ (Sheboygan WI), 9 Aug. 1921: p. 1, col. 6:

<<Fire Run Tonight / Promptly at 7:15 this evening the Sheboygan Fire
Department will stage a fire run on N. Eighth street.>>


_Fort Wayne News_ (Fort Wayne IN), 24 June 1914: p. 7(?), col. 1:

<<VOLUNTEER FIREMEN GO TO MEETING THURSDAY / .... / 2:30 p.m. -- Exhibition
run and hose laying contest between Decatur and Bluffton motor trucks.>>


_Stevens Point Daily Journal_ (Stevens Point WI), 20 May 1893: p. 5(?), col. 6:

<<Hose Company No. 1, was out for practice Thursday evening and to try the
new team the city authorities contemplate purchasing. The horses worked
well and the company made a creditable exhibition run from their Engine
House, to a hydrant near M. Wadleigh's residence on Main street.>>




_Salem Daily News_ (Salem OH), 6 July 1896: p. 5, col. 2:

<<Wet Run. / The wet run was made by the Fulton hook and ladder company and
the Deluge hose company. The run was made east in Main street to Fawcett's
store where the ladders were raised to the top of the building. The hose
company attached hose to a fire plug and ascending the ladder gave a fine


_Morning Oregonian_ (Portland OR), 11 Sep. 1886: p. 4, col. 1:

<<THE FIREMEN. / .... / TO-DAY'S CONTESTS. / State Association Champion
Hose Race -- Open to all; wet run; distance, 200 yards to hydrant; lay 350
feet of hose; ....; attach pipe and throw water.>>




_News_ (Frederick MD), 29 May 1901: p. 3(?), col. 4:

<<FIREMEN'S CONTESTS. / .... / Hose Race. / Not less than fifteen or more
than seventeen men to each company. Dry run, standing start, each team to
be allowed one trial; cart to carry 250 feet of hose, in 50-foot lengths;
distance, 200 yards to hydrant, attach and lay one line of hose 150 feet
from hydrant, break coupling and put on pipe, ... ready for water.>>


_New York Times_, 14 Aug. 1893: p. 1:

<<READY FOR THE FIREMEN / .... / For the dry run, standing start, one trial
will be allowed.>>


-- Doug Wilson

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