Wet blanket is an idiom with roots in the 1600s. 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. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, on the ball, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, 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 phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom wet blanket, where it may have come from, and some examples of its use in sentences.
A wet blanket is someone who spoils the enjoyment of a situation, someone who dampens other people’s joy. The expression dates from around the 1870s and is based on the fact that cooks at that time kept a wet blanket in the kitchen to smother fires quickly. This practice dates back at least to the mid-1600s. It is easy to see the parallel between extinguishing a fire and extinguishing someone’s joy. The term is often seen as a verb, as in throwing a wet blanket over a proceeding. It is used as a noun when accusing someone of being a wet blanket, or admonishing someone not to be a wet blanket.
It’s not the most pleasant part, by any means; not many people particularly enjoy having to be the “bad guy” or the “wet blanket”, and fewer still have much of an appetite for confrontation and uncomfortable conversations. (Forbes Magazine)
“Even more troubling, we potentially face the risk of development restrictions that would have the effect of throwing a wet blanket over South King County.” (The Kent Reporter)
I don’t want to be a wet blanket, but I’m tired of answering with a chirpy “fine,” when everything is not fine. (The New York Times)
I hate to be a wet blanket but you may be challenged to find an investment. (The Albuquerque Journal)