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[hem] /hɛm/
verb (used with object), hemmed, hemming.
to fold back and sew down the edge of (cloth, a garment, etc.); form an edge or border on or around.
to enclose or confine (usually followed by in, around, or about):
hemmed in by enemies.
an edge made by folding back the margin of cloth and sewing it down.
the edge or border of a garment, drape, etc., especially at the bottom.
the edge, border, or margin of anything.
Architecture. the raised edge forming the volute of an Ionic capital.
Origin of hem1
before 1000; Middle English hem(m), Old English hem, probably akin to hamm enclosure; see home


[hem] /hɛm/
(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,
  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.
1520-30; imitative Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2016.
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Examples from the Web for hemmed
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Plainly we were in their hands, and had to pay whatever Talib chose, as we might be hemmed in at any moment.

    Southern Arabia Theodore Bent
  • He was hemmed in on one side by physics, and on the other by arithmetic.

    Pushbutton War Joseph P. Martino
  • They had at that time been hemmed in on all sides, and were especially harassed by a fort erected in their neighbourhood.

  • And yet I could not escape, for I was hemmed in on every side.

    The Birthright Joseph Hocking
  • Night had fallen now, and a darkness, musky with autumn weeds, hemmed in the sphere of yellow light on the old piazza.

    Birthright T.S. Stribling
British Dictionary definitions for hemmed


an edge to a piece of cloth, made by folding the raw edge under and stitching it down
short for hemline
verb (transitive) hems, hemming, hemmed
to provide with a hem
usually foll by in, around, or about. to enclose or confine
Word Origin
Old English hemm; related to Old Frisian hemme enclosed land


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



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]


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.


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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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hemmed in the Bible

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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