Let’s veterinarian this word

Earlier this week, I got an out-of-the blue phone call from a friend calling from his work. He was wondering how to spell vet when used in the sense of methodically considering a person or idea. I’m not perfect and can’t always—gasp—immediately reach into my brain for correct answers. But, I did remember this one, mostly because of the interesting story of how it entered our lexicon. I’m writing about this today because I think you’ll find it pretty darn interesting, too.

First things first, vet used in this sense (or as Merriam-Webster puts it “to subject to usually expert appraisal or correction” and “to evaluate for possible approval or acceptance) is spelled just like the shortening of the word veterinarian, an animal doctor.

This is because we get this meaning of vet from veterinarian. A little surprising, I know. In horse racing, a veterinarian (vet) inspects a horse ahead of time to ensure, among other things, that it is healthy enough to run the race. In the 1860s, this process became known as vetting, related to the vet who was doing the inspecting. (You can find more information about the etymology here and here.)

In the evolution of this word, vet used as “He vetted the horse before the race,” started being used in the same way with ideas and people, as in “He vetted the candidate to ensure she was the right choice.”

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