I was a bit put off the first time I heard someone describe white wine as ‘dry’. It certainly isn’t dry. It’s a fucking liquid. It is most definitely WET. Describing a wine as dry makes me think of a Jacob’s cracker type of texture, something so dry that you have to gulp down water along with every sip. Or a bottle somebody filled with sand and then labelled it wine. THAT would be dry. That’s what I think of when something is described as dry. As it goes, while wine might not be as wet as, say.. water.. it’d take the harshest moisture critic in the world to describe it as “dry”.
It was, after some drunken arguing, explained to me that dry in this context meant bitter and tangy. So who made that call? Who said ‘dry’ suddenly meant that? So it seems at some point somebody was drinking wine and thought “I need a brand new word to describe this distinct kind of flavour”. But no! Apparently the dictionary is already filled with silly words like “quoin” (an external corner of a wall) that there’s no more room for wine-specific words. So what he did is just added another meaning to a word that already existed. There’s no real policy against that. If a person starts being a complete frinzledart and inventing words left and right then he’s either declared a Shakespearean-esque genius or a pretentious turd. (I am willing to bet Shakespeare himself was at some point called a pretentious turd in his day). But if you start randomly adding new, different meanings to already existing words, then no-one even bats an eyelid! The hypocrisy is very varnished. It’s practically decaffeinated!
When someone first described a musical note as “sharp” did a nearby listener back off, afraid he might cut himself on the sound waves? I think these alternate meanings trickle into common usage annoyingly well. A specific term previously reserved for angles greater than ninety degrees now means anything indistinct or dull.
But these double-meaninged words only allow meanings to be tacked on if there is no room for confusion between the two meanings. If someone described one of their friends as ‘sweet’ I wouldn’t immediately start thinking they were sugary and delicious. I wouldn’t start vigorously licking their face. Well depends if it’s a girl or guy really. And this is my exact problem with describing white wine as dry! There IS confusion between the meanings. If the word used to mean bitter-when-describing-wine was, say, “leafy”, then that’s fine, you aren’t going to start thinking your wine is a tree, because the meanings are so far removed from each other – in the same way you aren’t going to run into shade and have a chilled drink if your friend points out a hot girl coming down the street. But ‘dry’ is a word that is used precisely to describe how liquidy something is – to then apply that to a liquid but say it has a different meaning altogether is just haphazard. How would you describe wine that is particularly sandy? People would start thinking you meant bitter!
The person who came up with ‘dry’ humour had the right idea; no-one is going to start thinking his jokes need more water added to them.