Unpopular Opinion: Water is Wet

I have heard many young people saying the strangest thing lately: “water is not wet.” This claim, including the arguments surrounding it, has been made into tweets, memes, and been shared all over social media.

I do enjoy the groovy social medias of today’s youth; However, I feel the need to weight in on the debate. My unpopular opinion: water is wet.

I think the easiest way to explain my opinion will be to respond to the most common reasons why water is not wet.

Arguments for why “water is not wet”:

– Water cannot be wet, but not water can be not wet.
– Fire cannot be on fire, so water cannot be wet.

“Water cannot be wet, but not water can be not wet.”

 1. Water cannot be wet

At room temperature, water (the compound H20) exists in a liquid state (at ground-level pressure and room temperature). That same water (H20), in 32F (0C) degrees or lower, becomes a solid, aka ice, and can be made wet by covering in (liquid) water. Thus we see that water (H2O), can indeed become wet.

This, of course, leaves us with the question: can superheated water (water in gas state) become wet? The answer to this depends on the definition of “wet”, which I will address in  point three below.

2. Not water can be not wet

Certain not waters do not become wet when covered in water (according to human perception). Of the not waters that have this property that I can think of, all of them are liquids. Is oil wet? if you pour water on oil, does the oil become wet?

If oil suddenly becomes wet with the introduction of water, what has changed about the oil to make it “wet”? Is that wetness a result of the water, or is “wet” simply an intrinsic quality of liquids?

3. Defining “wet”

Liquids are either, incapable of not being wet because they are intrinsically wet or we must assess what makes solids “wet” and determine if this is possible for liquids.

3.a. The “wet” solid

Solids are wet when either a) have water on their surface or b) be saturated with water (e.g. A car can have water on its exterior and a sponge can have water on it’s interior).

3.b. The “wet” liquid

Applying this definition of wet, any liquid that has a foreign liquid on it or in it is wet. The addition of water to water makes the original water wet with water (saturation). The addition of water to oil makes the oil wet with oil (superficial). If this is not the case, the intrinsic “wetness” of all liquids makes them “unwetable”.

Intrinsic wetness means that every water molecule is surrounded by more water molecules and any body of water is saturated with water molecules, thus, water is ALWAYS wet.

3.c. Can liquids be not wet?

The intrinsic wetness of liquids gives us two possibilities as to whether a liquid can be not wet. Either a) a liquid can only be made wet by a foreign liquid–and is thus not wet so long as it is not contaminated by a foreign liquid–or b) the intrinsic wetness of liquid (saturation or superficial wetness) means that only a single molecule of any liquid may be a liquid yet not wet.

The first “dry” liquid is very possible. Distilled water can be purchased at your local supermarket and is, theoretically, a pure fluid of only one type of molecule. However, depending on the definition of “foreign”, an impure liquid could be considered “dry” and a pure liquid could be made wet by a pure liquid of identical composition. But, the very description of a liquid as “dry” seems rather silly and even oxymoronic. Perhaps you may be more open-minded: I, however, take the silliness of “dry liquid” as proof that liquids have an intrinsic wetness.

The second “dry” liquid is rather impractical, however. A single molecule of any liquid could be “dry” through a complete lack of association with any other liquid molecule. But this liquid would be microscopic and unseeable by the human eye. So, it is safe to say that, any body of liquid that you can be questioned about, can be safely labeled as wet.

“Fire can’t be on fire, so water can’t be wet”

First of all, no.

Secondly, please refer to the answer to the previous “not wet” argument. Like wetness, the state of being on fire is a characteristic which can only apply to matter. Fire is not matter, and thus cannot be on fire. All types of matter (solids, liquids, and gasses) are capable of being on fire. Any exceptions to this are on a compound-by-compound basis.

In short, the inability for fire to be on fire does not compare to the wetness of water.

Conclusion

I do hope you have enjoyed this fun little debate. In the end, it doesn’t really matter if water is wet or not. I think the value of this discussion is that kids are taking the chance to think, to explore, and to question things that they’ve always been told to believe. In this spirit, I add my own thoughts to the interweb.

Yours Truly,
Uncle Nacho

Update – 3/13/18

I recently saw this video by the YouTube channel, Kurzgesagt, which illustrates the intrinsic wetness of water by breaking down the atomic characteristics of wetness. If my wordy explanation above doesn’t clarify water’s wetness, perhaps the visuals from 1:00 – 1:35 will help.