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hem2

[hem]
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interjection
  1. (an utterance resembling a slight clearing of the throat, used to attract attention, express doubt, etc.)
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noun
  1. the utterance or sound of “hem.”
  2. a sound or pause of hesitation: His sermon was full of hems and haws.
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verb (used without object), hemmed, hem·ming.
  1. to utter the sound “hem.”
  2. to hesitate in speaking.
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Idioms
  1. hem and haw,
    1. to hesitate or falter: She hemmed and hawed a lot before she came to the point.
    2. to speak noncommittally; avoid giving a direct answer: He hems and haws and comes out on both sides of every question.
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Origin of hem2

First recorded in 1520–30; imitative
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for hem and haw

hem1

noun
  1. an edge to a piece of cloth, made by folding the raw edge under and stitching it down
  2. short for hemline
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verb hems, hemming or hemmed (tr)
  1. to provide with a hem
  2. (usually foll by in, around, or about) to enclose or confine
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Word Origin

Old English hemm; related to Old Frisian hemme enclosed land

hem2

noun, interjection
  1. a representation of the sound of clearing the throat, used to gain attention, express hesitation, etc
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verb hems, hemming or hemmed
  1. (intr) to utter this sound
  2. hem and haw or hum and haw to hesitate in speaking or in making a decision
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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 hem and haw

hem

v.

late 14c., "to provide (something) with a border or fringe" (surname Hemmer attested from c.1300), from hem (n.). Related: Hemmed; hemming. The phrase hem in "shut in, confine," first recorded 1530s.

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hem

n.

Old English hem "a border," especially of cloth or a garment, from Proto-Germanic *hamjam (cf. Old Norse hemja "to bridle, curb," Swedish hämma "to stop, restrain," Old Frisian hemma "to hinder," Middle Dutch, German hemmen "to hem in, stop, hinder"), from PIE *kem- "to compress." Apparently the same root yielded Old English hamm, common in place names (where it means "enclosure, land hemmed in by water or high ground, land in a river bend"). In Middle English, hem also was a symbol of pride or ostentation.

If þei wer þe first þat schuld puplysch þese grete myracles of her mayster, men myth sey of hem, as Crist ded of þe Pharisees, þat þei magnified her owne hemmys. [John Capgrave, "Life of Saint Gilbert of Sempringham," 1451]
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hem

interj.

late 15c., probably imitative of the sound of clearing the throat. Hem and haw first recorded 1786, from haw "hesitation" (1630s; see haw (v.)); hem and hawk attested from 1570s.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with hem and haw

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]

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.