January 23, 2007

wet signature

wet signature n. An original signature written on a piece of paper, as opposed to a fax copy or to an agreement offered verbally or electronically.

"Insurers are working with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to
modernize and standardize troublesome state regulations. Many states, for example, have rules that require a 'wet' signature on a policy or physical delivery of the policy, thus preventing policy issuance via by the Internet."—Gene Linn, "Industry lags in Internet sales," The Journal of Commerce, July 8, 1999

Wet Signature -- technology doesn't just create new language to describe itself, it forces our vocabulary to recast what was. In that way, the existence of digital signatures--now legally binding--forces us to relook at the traditional inkstanined variety, and rename them wet signatures. "Give me a big wet one" may take on a whole new meaning.--Dictionary of the future:
The words, terms and trends that define the way we'll live, work and talk
, Faith Popcorn and Adam Hanft.

Bloggin' John Comments:
Wet signature is a neologism, a newly coined word or expression.

It is also a retronym, "a term consisting of a noun and a modifier which specifies the
original meaning of the noun." Example Sentence: When Bob asked Donna what a
retronym was, she looked around the room for an example and said "rotary phone."
--Merriam Webster Online

Wet signature is also an example--a very clever example--of the figure of speech called metonymy: the substitution of a word for a related word, such as cause for effect,
container for contained: "The pen is mightier than the sword."
--Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to Turn a Phrase, Arthur Quinn

Who ever invented wet signature, had the choice of using the name of the tool applied in writing a signature--the pen. Possible creations could have been "pen signature "or
"ink pen signature" or "pen and paper signature" (on the assumption that an electronic signature is made with a (dry) stylus).

Or the inventor could have used the fluid that leaves its mark in the signature: ink, as in, well, "ink signature."

Instead, the inventor chose to invent a metonymy by offering to the reader's imagination an image of a basic, physical quality of ink to look at--its
wetness. It's up to the reader to draw the ineluctable inference that the wetness involved is the wetness of ink--ink involved in the penning of a signature. This requisite inference brings the reader into close-in interpretive involvement with the word simply because with wet the reader has to do more work to do than with pen or ink if the verbal transaction is going to take place.

Beside interpretive involvement, there is the imaginative involvement that comes with the introduction of
the reflective trail of wet ink. From that close-in detail, the reader zooms out to an construct a larger image to include the other components of the picture--the guiding hand, the moving pen, the shapes of the letters, and the paper below it all. That's a lot of cognitive and imaginative action springing out a wee pip of a word: wet.

The following is for lagianappe (which see):
More examples of metonymy:
crown for royalty, mitre for bishop, wealth for rich people, brass for military officers,
forwine, pen for writers.--Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, Third Edition, Edward P. J. Corbett.


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