hem and haw


2 [hem]
(an utterance resembling a slight clearing of the throat, used to attract attention, express doubt, etc.)
the utterance or sound of “hem.”
a sound or pause of hesitation: His sermon was full of hems and haws.
verb (used without object), hemmed, hemming.
to utter the sound “hem.”
to hesitate in speaking.
hem and haw,
to hesitate or falter: She hemmed and hawed a lot before she came to the point.
to speak noncommittally; avoid giving a direct answer: He hems and haws and comes out on both sides of every question.

1520–30; imitative

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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
hem1 (hɛm)
1.  an edge to a piece of cloth, made by folding the raw edge under and stitching it down
2.  short for hemline
vb (usually foll by in, around, or about) , hems, hemming, hemmed
3.  to provide with a hem
4.  to enclose or confine
[Old English hemm; related to Old Frisian hemme enclosed land]

hem2 (hɛm)
n, —interj
1.  a representation of the sound of clearing the throat, used to gain attention, express hesitation, etc
vb , hems, hemming, hemmed
2.  (intr) to utter this sound
3.  hem and haw, hum and haw to hesitate in speaking or in making a decision

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

O.E. hem "a border," from P.Gmc. *khamjanan (cf. O.N. hemja "to bridle, curb," O.Fris. hemma "to hinder," M.Du., Ger. hemmen "to hem in, stop, hinder"), from the same root that yielded hamper and O.E. hamm, common in place names (where it means "enclosure, land hemmed in by water or high ground, land
in a river bend"). The phrase hem in "shut in, confine," first recorded 1538. Hem-line first attested 1923.

1470, probably imitative of the sound of clearing the throat. Hem and haw first recorded 1786, from haw "hesitation," first recorded 1632.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Medical Dictionary

hem- pref.
Variant of hemo-.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Bible Dictionary

Hem definition

of a garment, the fringe of a garment. The Jews attached much importance to these, because of the regulations in Num. 15:38, 39. These borders or fringes were in process of time enlarged so as to attract special notice (Matt. 23:5). The hem of Christ's garment touched (9:20; 14:36; Luke 8:44).

Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

hem and haw

Be hesitant and indecisive; avoid committing oneself, as in When asked about their wedding date, she hemmed and hawed, or The President hemmed and hawed about new Cabinet appointments. This expression imitates the sounds of clearing one's throat. [Late 1700s]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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