wetwork (semantic drift)

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton3 at VIRGINMEDIA.COM
Fri Dec 3 06:53:46 UTC 2010

Wiki defines wetwork in the sense I've come across it:


>From Wikipedia

Wetwork or wet work is a euphemism for murder or assassination, alluding to
spilling blood. The expression "wet work", as well as the similar "wet job",
"wet affair" or "wet operation", are all calques of the euphemism used by
the KGB for such activities, mokroye delo (wet job).[1] These operations are
reputed to have been handled at the KGB by Spetsbureau 13, colorfully known
as the "Department of wet affairs" (Otdel mokrykh del).[2][3]

The Russian expression "wet job" (мокрое дело) can be traced to at least the
19th century[4][5] from Russian criminal slang (fenya, muzyka) and
originally meant robbery that involved murder, i.e., spilling blood.

However, Neal Stephenson in _Snow Crash_, p. 123, has the following,
suggesting a weakened or extended sense involving any active CIA operation:

"... a wet operation -- doing actual cloak-and-dagger work ..."

Normally, I wouldn't bother with this, but Stephenson is a writer who went
to Charles Hitchen's _The Regulator_ of 1718 in order to get the material
for one page in a 1500 page novel cycle (rather than, as too many writers
do, excavating the execrable work of James Hardy "thrice transported" Vaux),
so he's usually fairly careful and reliable.

So my question:  is this sense of "wetwork", as an active operation rather
than specifically a killing, current already, or is Stephenson implying
(_Snow Crash_ is set in the relatively near future) that this *will be* an
extension of the term at the time when the novel is set?


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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list