1 [stem]
the ascending axis of a plant, whether above or below ground, which ordinarily grows in an opposite direction to the root or descending axis.
the stalk that supports a leaf, flower, or fruit.
the main body of that portion of a tree, shrub, or other plant which is above ground; trunk; stalk.
a cut flower: We bought roses at the flower market for 50¢ a stem.
a petiole; peduncle; pedicel.
a stalk of bananas.
something resembling or suggesting a leaf or flower stalk.
a long, slender part: the stem of a tobacco pipe.
the slender, vertical part of a goblet, wineglass, etc., between the bowl and the base.
Informal. a drinking glass having a stem.
the handle of a spoon.
a projection from the rim of a watch, having on its end a knob for winding the watch.
the circular rod in some locks about which the key fits and rotates.
the rod or spindle by which a valve is operated from outside.
the stock or line of descent of a family; ancestry or pedigree.
Grammar. the underlying form, often consisting of a root plus an affix, to which the inflectional endings of a word are added, as tend-, the stem in Latin tendere “to stretch,” the root of which is ten-. Compare base1 ( def 18 ), theme ( def 5 ).
Music. the vertical line forming part of a note.
stems, Slang. the legs of a human being.
the main or relatively thick stroke of a letter in printing.
verb (used with object), stemmed, stemming.
to remove the stem from (a leaf, fruit, etc.): Stem the cherries before cooking.
verb (used without object), stemmed, stemming.
to arise or originate: This project stems from last week's lecture.

before 900; Middle English; Old English stemn, stefn, equivalent to ste- (variant of sta-, base of standan to stand) + -mn- suffix; akin to German Stamm stem, tribe; see staff1

stemless, adjective
stemlike, adjective Unabridged


2 [stem]
verb (used with object), stemmed, stemming.
to stop, check, or restrain.
to dam up; stop the flow of (a stream, river, or the like).
to tamp, plug, or make tight, as a hole or joint.
Skiing. to maneuver (a ski or skis) in executing a stem.
to stanch (bleeding).
verb (used without object), stemmed, stemming.
Skiing. to execute a stem.
Skiing. the act or instance of a skier pushing the heel of one or both skis outward so that the heels are far apart, as in making certain turns or slowing down.

1400–50; late Middle English stemmen < Old Norse stemma to dam or Middle Low German stemmen


3 [stem]
verb (used with object), stemmed, stemming.
to make headway against (a tide, current, gale, etc.).
to make progress against (any opposition).

1585–95; v. use of stem4


4 [stem]
noun Nautical.
(at the bow of a vessel) an upright into which the side timbers or plates are jointed.
the forward part of a vessel (often opposed to stern ).

before 900; continuing Old English stefn, stemn end-timber; special use of stem1; Middle English stampne, stamyn(e) apparently < the cognate with Old Norse stamn, stafn in same sense


5 [stem]
verb (used with object), stemmed, stemming.
to arrange the loading of (a merchant vessel) within a specified time.

1895–1900; variant of steven to direct one's course < Old Norse stefna to sail directly, aim, derivative of stafn stem4 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
stem1 (stɛm)
1.  the main axis of a plant, which bears the leaves, axillary buds, and flowers and contains a hollow cylinder of vascular tissue
2.  any similar subsidiary structure in such plants that bears a flower, fruit, or leaf
3.  a corresponding structure in algae and fungi
4.  any long slender part, such as the hollow part of a tobacco pipe that lies between the bit and the bowl, or the support between the base and the bowl of a wineglass, goblet, etc
5.  a banana stalk with several bunches attached
6.  the main line of descent or branch of a family
7.  a round pin in some locks on which a socket in the end of a key fits and about which it rotates
8.  any projecting feature of a component: a shank or cylindrical pin or rod, such as the pin that carries the winding knob on a watch
9.  linguistics Compare root the form of a word that remains after removal of all inflectional affixes; the root of a word, esp as occurring together with a thematic element
10.  the main, usually vertical, stroke of a letter or of a musical note such as a minim
11.  electronics the tubular glass section projecting from the base of a light bulb or electronic valve, on which the filament or electrodes are mounted
12.  a.  the main upright timber or structure at the bow of a vessel
 b.  the very forward end of a vessel (esp in the phrase from stem to stern)
vb (usually foll by from) , stems, stemming, stemmed
13.  to be derived; originate: the instability stems from the war
14.  (tr) to make headway against (a tide, wind, etc)
15.  (tr) to remove or disengage the stem or stems from
16.  (tr) to supply (something) with a stem or stems
[Old English stemn; related to Old Norse stafn stem of a ship, German Stamm tribe, Gothic stōma basis, Latin stāmen thread]

stem2 (stɛm)
vb , stems, stemming, stemmed
1.  (tr) to restrain or stop (the flow of something) by or as if by damming up
2.  (tr) to pack tightly or stop up
3.  skiing to manoeuvre (a ski or skis), as in performing a stem
4.  skiing a technique in which the heel of one ski or both skis is forced outwards from the direction of movement in order to slow down or turn
[C15 stemmen, from Old Norse stemma; related to Old Norse stamr blocked, stammering, German stemmen to prop; see stammer]

Stem (stɛm)
die Stem See Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika the South African national anthem until 1991, when part of it was incorporated into the current anthem, Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika
[C19: from Afrikaans, the call]

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. stemn, stefn "stem of a plant," also "either end-post of a ship," from P.Gmc. *stamniz (cf. O.S. stamm, O.N. stafn "stem of a ship;" Dan. stamme, Swed. stam "trunk of a tree;" O.H.G. stam, Ger. Stamm), from PIE base *sta- "to stand" (see stet). Meaning "support of a wineglass"
is from 1835. Stem-winding watches (1875) were advanced and desirable when introduced, hence slang stem-winder "excellent thing" (1892). The nautical sense is preserved in the phrase stem to stern "along the full length" (of a ship), attested from 1627. The verbal phrase stems from, first recorded 1932, Amer.Eng., translates Ger. stammen aus, probably from a fig. sense represented by Eng. stem (n.) in the sense of "stock of a family, line of descent" (c.1540; cf. family tree, and Ger. stammvater "tribal ancestor," lit. "stem-father")

"to hold back," c.1300, from O.N. stemma "to stop," from P.Gmc. *stamjan (cf. Swed. stämma, O.S. stemmian, M.Du. stemon, Ger. stemmen "stop, resist, oppose"), from PIE base *stem- "to strike against something" (cf. Lith. stumiu "thrust, push"). Phrase to stem the tide is lit. "to hold back the
tide," but often is confused with stem (v.) in sense of "to make headway against, head in a certain course" (late 14c.), which is from stem (n.)).
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Medical Dictionary

stem (stěm)
A supporting structure resembling the stalk of a plant.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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American Heritage
Science Dictionary
stem   (stěm)  Pronunciation Key 
  1. The main, often long or slender part of a plant that usually grows upward above the ground and supports other parts, such as branches and leaves. Plants have evolved a number of tissue arrangements in the stem. Seedless vascular plants (such as mosses and ferns) have primary vascular tissue in an inner core, a cylindrical ring, or individual strands scattered amid the ground tissue. In eudicots, magnoliids, and conifers, the stem develops a continuous cylindrical layer or a ring of separate bundles of vascular tissue (including secondary vascular tissue) embedded in the ground tissue. In monocots and some herbaceous eudicots, individual strands of primary vascular tissue are scattered in the ground tissue.

  2. A slender stalk supporting or connecting another plant part, such as a leaf or flower.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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Example sentences
Another advantage stems from the slower breakdown of beta-peptides in the body.
It seems that much of the objection to ethanol production stems from the idea
  that it is immoral to burn food for fuel.
Cut out stems from chard and chop stems, reserving leaves.
Already the boasting is uncomfortable to witness, because it stems so obviously
  from insecurity and a fear of losing face.
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