Mad as a wet hen and mad as a hornet

  • Mad as a wet hen and mad as a hornet are two idioms that mean the same thing. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beating around the bush, ballpark figure, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, Achilles heel, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, a dime a dozen, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the expressions mad as a wet hen and mad as a hornet, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.


    Mad as a wet hen and mad as a hornet are phrases that mean extremely angry, enraged, very exasperated. Synonyms for mad as a wet hen and mad as a hornet that may be found in a thesaurus are angry, furious, outraged, irate. The idiom mad as a wet hen is sometimes rendered as madder than a wet hen. Note that the word mad, in this instance, means angry. This is different from the British English phrase mad as a hatter, in which the word mad means insane. Mad as a wet hen and mad as a hornet were coined in the United States in the early half of the 1800s. There is a story that farmers used to dunk broody hens into a barrel of water in order to snap them out of their reverie, causing the hens to squawk and react negatively. This story may be apocryphal. Hornets have always been depicted as angry and being quick to sting when agitated. Currently, the phrase mad as a hornet is the more popular idiom.



    “We went out to dinner and met [Roy], and he was mad as a wet hen because she had made a blind date and he hadn’t known anything about it until it was all done and over with,” said Panchelli. (The Union-Recorder)

    “When it’s time to go, we might skedaddle after we say, “OK then, bye now,” if we want a kiss or a hug we may ask someone to gimme some suga or lemme hug your neck, and when we’re mad as a wet hen we might say durnit instead of a dreaded curse word that might embarrass our mamas.” (The Savannah Morning News)

    If you just heard your mama come home and you haven’t finished your chores, she will definitely be “madder than a wet hen.” (The Suwannee Democrat)

    It won’t be easy but Crest has a shot here, although Wilson ought to be mad as a hornet and looking to take out its frustrations on somebody after last week’s loss. (The Lebanon Daily News)

    “Stop behaving like an animal!” you may hear a mad as a hornet parent saying to a child grinning from ear to ear, or “Those were our good old days, bhaisa’ab,” you may see an old uncle frowning. (The Indian Express)

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