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[klam] /klæm/
any of various bivalve mollusks, especially certain edible species.
Informal. a secretive or silent person.
Slang. a dollar or the sum of a dollar:
I only made 60 clams a week.
verb (used without object), clammed, clamming.
to gather or dig clams.
Verb phrases
clam up, Slang. to refuse to talk or reply; refrain from talking or divulging information:
The teacher asked who had thrown the eraser, but the class clammed up.
Origin of clam1
1585-95; short for clam-shell, i.e., bivalve with a shell that clamps. See clam2, shell
Related forms
clamlike, adjective
clammer, noun


[klam] /klæm/
British Dialect, clamp1 (defs 1–3).
Machinery. (formerly) pincers.
before 1000; Middle English; Old English, derivative of clamm fetter, grasp; cognate with German Klamm fetter; akin to clamp Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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British Dictionary definitions for clam


any of various burrowing bivalve molluscs of the genera Mya, Venus, etc. Many species, such as the quahog and soft-shell clam, are edible and Tridacna gigas is the largest known bivalve, nearly 1.5 metres long
the edible flesh of such a mollusc
(informal) a reticent person
verb clams, clamming, clammed
(intransitive) (mainly US) to gather clams
See also clam up
Word Origin
C16: from earlier clamshell, that is, shell that clamps; related to Old English clamm fetter, Old High German klamma constriction; see clamp1


verb clams, clamming, clammed
a variant of clem
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for clam

bivalve mollusk, c.1500, in clam-shell, originally Scottish, apparently a particular use from Middle English clam "pincers, vice, clamp" (late 14c.), from Old English clamm "bond, fetter, grip, grasp," from Proto-Germanic *klam- "to press or squeeze together" (cf. Old High German klamma "cramp, fetter, constriction," German Klamm "a constriction"). If this is right then the original reference is to the shell. Clam-chowder attested from 1822. To be happy as a clam is from 1833, but the earliest uses do not elaborate on the notion behind it, unless it be self-containment.


"to dig for clams," 1630s, American English, from clam (n.). Clam up "be quiet" is 1916, American English, but clam was used in this sense as an interjection mid-14c.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for clam



  1. A silent, secretive person, esp one who can be trusted with a confidence (1860s+)
  2. A dollar: That'll be eight clams for the oil (1930s+)
  3. wrong or sour note; clinker (1940s+ Jazz musicians)
  4. The vulva; bearded clam •The term is probably older than indicated. An English dialect dictionary of 1857 hints as much with two senses of clam: ''a slut''; ''to snatch, to shut'' (1916+)


clam up •The term must be earlier than the date given, although no examples can be provided. Middle English clum, ''be quiet! shut up,'' of obscure origin, may not be related to clam (1916+)

Related Terms

bearded clam, happy as a clam

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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clam in Technology

mathematics, tool
A system for symbolic mathematics, especially General Relativity. It was first implemented in ATLAS assembly language and later Lisp.
See also ALAM.
["CLAM Programmer's Manual", Ray d'Inverno & Russell-Clark, King's College London, 1971].

The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010
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Idioms and Phrases with clam


In addition to the idiom beginning with clam also see: happy as the day is long (as a clam)
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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