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[oh-kuh m] /ˈoʊ kəm/
loose fiber obtained by untwisting and picking apart old ropes, used for caulking the seams of ships.
Origin of oakum
before 1000; Middle English okome, Old English ācuma, variant of ācumba, literally, offcombings, equivalent to ā- separative prefix (see a-3) + -cumba (see comb1) Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for oakum
Historical Examples
  • Be sure to fill the seams thoroughly and tightly with the oakum or other caulking material.

    Woodworking for Beginners Charles Gardner Wheeler
  • Then oakum Otie sighed and melted away into the foggy gloom.

    Blow The Man Down Holman Day
  • His fingers found what he wanted, an opening between two planks, where a leak had been freshly calked with oakum.

    Jim Spurling, Fisherman Albert Walter Tolman
  • To untwist, to unlay ropes; to teaze, to convert it into oakum.

    The Sailor's Word-Book William Henry Smyth
  • From these he picked out those he wished, with the same skill and quick judgment that he used in buying his hemp and oakum.

  • To clear the rigging of stops, rope-yarns, and pieces of oakum.

    The Sailor's Word-Book William Henry Smyth
  • The carpenter made ready sheets of lead, and plugs of oakum, for the stopping of shot-holes.

    On the Spanish Main John Masefield
  • One of them oakum eaters, that s what he was—an oakum eater.

    Fair Harbor Joseph Crosby Lincoln
  • These can then be caulked with oakum, cotton-batting, or wicking, or something of that nature.

    Woodworking for Beginners Charles Gardner Wheeler
  • When he was home from sea he and I stuck together like hot pitch and oakum.

    The Portygee Joseph Crosby Lincoln
British Dictionary definitions for oakum


loose fibre obtained by unravelling old rope, used esp for caulking seams in wooden ships
Word Origin
Old English ācuma, variant of ācumba, literally: off-combings, from ā- off + -cumba, from cemban to comb
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 oakum

"loose fiber obtained from taking apart old hemp ropes," early 15c., from Old English acumba "tow, oakum, flax fibers separated by combing," literally "what is combed out," from Proto-Germanic *us-kambon (cf. Old High German achambi); first element cognate with Old English a- "away, out, off;" second element from stem of cemban "to comb," from camb "a comb;" from PIE *gembh- "tooth, nail" (see comb (n.)).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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