Is Water Wet?

Water is wet.

Is water wet? It’s a timeless conversation that has dogged philosophers for generations. And yet, oftentimes it’s the easy proofs that are often overlooked because of their deceptive simplicity. To me, proving that water is wet is tantamount to proving that fire is hot — or Groton students are stressed;it’s a difficult task because it’s just a fact. 

In order to answer this question, we need to first understand what something means to be wet. According to Oxford Languages, something is wet when it is “covered or saturated with water.” So let’s first deal with the case of whether water is “covered” by water. Let’s say you have a bucket of water. Ninety-nine percent of that water will be covered by other water molecules. And logically, if something is ninety-nine percent wet, you would say that it is wet. For instance, if your entire body was covered with water except for a small spot on your nose, you would be mostly covered with water. But regardless, you would label yourself as wet. Therefore, water, since it is mostly covered with water, is wet. 

And now, onto the other case. Is water saturated by water? Something is saturated if it cannot hold any more of a liquid, as it would thus be thoroughly soaked. But any water is fully soaked with water. If you were to pour water on water, that water would not be absorbed by the initial water. Rather, it would just be more water. It would become a part of the initial water, which means that the water is neither absorbed or repelled. Therefore, water is saturated, which makes it wet. It’s just a fact.

Facts don’t care about your feelings. 

Water is not wet.

We can begin with the incident that made the question viral: two young men speculating in loud, contentious voices about whether or not a goldfish in a tank is wet. If we remove the goldfish from the tank, we would feel the moisture on its scales and wonder why on earth such a question is even being considered – if a goldfish embedded with thousands of beads of water can’t be considered wet, then what can? Isn’t this what establishes the basic definition of “wet”?

In considering the question of the goldfish, we open the door to understanding the wettitude of water. The goldfish, removed from water, is indubitably wet. “Wet” has multitudes of definitions, but this goldfish meets all criteria – having “replacement of area of the solid-air interface with a solid-liquid interface” (VanLang, PhD in chemical engineering), it meets a more rigorous definition, and having the tactile sensation of liquid “wetness”, it also fulfills the semantic definition. Putting the goldfish back in water, the rigorous definition is still fulfilled, but the semantic definition becomes a gray area – the goldfish in water cannot feel the substance that surrounds it, as it has no frame of comparison. Thus, the fish in water cannot experience semantic wetness. But, putting our faith back into the rigorous nature of rigorousness, the goldfish, both in the water or out, is wet.

Now, let’s replace the goldfish with a single molecule of water. Asking the same three questions we asked of the goldfish, we run into problems with each. Separated from other molecules, no definition of “wet” is satisfied: its interface is neither replaced by a different form of matter, nor covered or soaked with water. Back in the water, this molecule, like the goldfish, cannot experience the tactile sensation of liquid, and still has no displacement of interface. In essence, this molecule meets no definition of wetness, and thus cannot be considered wet.

Let us also consider this from a linguistic point of view. Why are things defined as wet in the first place? Words are used to formalize abstract concepts, and “wet” is used to formalize this merging of a solid and liquid interface. Water isn’t wet because there is no wetness to be associated with water – it is fluid, not wet. Fundamental elements and concepts, such as water, color, identity, and marriage, shape the qualities of other objects and concepts, but they themselves are independent in their existences.