A lot of programmers/software engineers tell new guys "get your hands wet".

What does that mean?

Does that mean "do it yourself"?

This book says

Before you get your hands wet trying your first Java program, you need to learn some basic concepts ...

it seems that "get your hands wet" means write some code personally?

is it a verb? how can I use this phrase properly?

3 Answers 3


It's likely somebody getting confused between two different idioms.

get your feet wet

[Cambridge Dictionary]

to become used to a new situation:
I worked as a substitute teacher for a while, just to get my feet wet.

get your hands dirty

[MacMillan Dictionary]

1 to do physical work
She’d never get her hands dirty helping out around the house.
To work hard: work at, forge, overwork . . .

2 to become involved in something dishonest
To do something dishonest: cheat, defraud, falsify . . .

From the context of the passage, both get your feet wet and the first sense of get your hands dirty are possible. It's even possible that a combination of those two were meant and the hybrid phrase was used deliberately. However, I find that unlikely.

In short, I would not use the exact phrase that was used in the question. Instead, use one of the actual idioms.

The first means ease into things and the second means do some actual work (rather than just theory, in the context of programming).

They are not mutually exclusive. In theory, they could even be combined:

get your feet wet by getting your hands dirty

However, that sounds bizarre because they aren't meant to be combined that way.


I did not encounter the idiom

"get your hands wet"

but I encountered

"get your hands dirty"

From the context, I understand that they mean the same thing - you start doing something with your own hands. This idiom must originate in the jobs where it is (traditionally) impossible to keep your hands clean: mechanical repairs, agriculture, farm work...

Does that mean "do it yourself"?

Conclusion: YES, that is the meaning.


There are a well established idioms:

get one's feet wet - venture out into new field / trying new activity as a beginner / newby

get one's hands dirty - (extended secondary meaning) start real work/job

In passage from the initial question author definitely was after meaning conveyed by "get one's feet wet" idiom, yet decided to invent new one / didn't use correct established idiom by mistake. So example from the question can be rather considered as error in attempt to use "get one's feet wet" idiom.

  • Your reply has already been covered in greater depth by a previous contributor. I'm sure your input would be greatly appreciated elsewhere on the site.
    – Wehage
    Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 21:39
  • 1
    Sorry I was not reading previous responses thoroughly enough and just rushed into typing in my own answer, which ended up to to be brief rewording of @Jason Bassford's reply :)
    – Mike
    Commented Jun 19, 2020 at 8:08

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