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  1. a cut of meat from the heavy-muscled part of a hog's rear quarter, between hip and hock, usually cured.
  2. that part of a hog's hind leg.
  3. the part of the leg back of the knee.
  4. Often hams. the back of the thigh, or the thigh and the buttock together.

Origin of ham1

before 1000; Middle English hamme, Old English hamm bend of the knee; cognate with Middle Dutch, Middle Low German hamme, Old High German hamma; akin to Old Norse hǫm buttock; perhaps akin to Greek knḗmē shin, Old Irish cnáim bone


  1. an actor or performer who overacts.
  2. an operator of an amateur radio station.
verb (used with or without object), hammed, ham·ming.
  1. to act with exaggerated expression of emotion; overact.
  1. ham it up, to overact; ham.

Origin of ham2

1880–85; short for hamfatter, after The Hamfat Man, a black minstrel song celebrating an awkward man


  1. the second son of Noah, Gen. 10:1.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for ham


  1. the part of the hindquarters of a pig or similar animal between the hock and the hip
  2. the meat of this part, esp when salted or smoked
  3. informal
    1. the back of the leg above the knee
    2. the space or area behind the knee
  4. needlework a cushion used for moulding curves

Word Origin

Old English hamm; related to Old High German hamma haunch, Old Irish cnāim bone, camm bent, Latin camur bent


  1. theatre informal
    1. an actor who overacts or relies on stock gestures or mannerisms
    2. overacting or clumsy acting
    3. (as modifier)a ham actor
  2. informal
    1. a licensed amateur radio operator
    2. (as modifier)a ham licence
verb hams, hamming or hammed
  1. informal to overact

Word Origin

C19: special use of ham 1; in some senses probably influenced by amateur
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

Word Origin and History for ham


"meat of a hog's hind leg used for food," 1630s, from Old English hamm "hollow or bend of the knee," from Proto-Germanic *hamma- (cf. Old Norse höm, Middle Low German, Middle Dutch hamme, Old High German hamma), from PIE *konemo- "shin bone" (cf. Greek kneme "calf of the leg," Old Irish cnaim "bone"). Ham-fisted (1928) was originally in reference to pilots who were heavy on the controls, as was ham-handed (by 1918). With hammen ifalden "with folded hams" was a Middle English way of saying "kneeling."


"overacting inferior performer," 1882, American English, apparently a shortening of hamfatter (1880) "actor of low grade," said since at least 1889 to be from an old minstrel show song, "The Ham-fat Man" (1863). The song, a black-face number, has nothing to do with acting, so the connection must be with the quality of acting in minstrel shows, where the song was popular. Ham also had a sports slang sense of "incompetent pugilist" circa 1888, perhaps from ham-fisted. The notion of "amateurish" led to the sense of "amateur radio operator" (1919). The verb in the performance sense is first recorded 1933. As an adjective in this sense by 1935.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

ham in Culture


One of the three sons of Noah. According to the biblical account, Noah and his family were the only human survivors of the great Flood and were therefore the progenitors of all the peoples on Earth.


Egypt (see also Egypt) was traditionally called “the Land of Ham,” and Ham was considered to be the ancestor of the Egyptians and of all African peoples south of Egypt.


The “curse of Ham” refers to the biblical story in which Ham, seeing his father drunk and naked, refused to turn away as his two brothers did. When Noah awoke, he cursed Ham and his son Canaan, supposedly causing a darker pigmentation in their descendants. This so-called curse has often been wrongly used to justify racism.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.