• synonyms


  1. clue(def 1).
  2. Nautical. either lower corner of a square sail or the after lower corner of a fore-and-aft sail.
  3. a ball or skein of thread, yarn, etc.
  4. Usually clews. the rigging for a hammock.
  5. Theater. a metal device holding scenery lines controlled by one weighted line.
  6. Classical Mythology. the thread by which Theseus found his way out of the labyrinth.
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verb (used with object)
  1. to coil into a ball.
  2. clue(def 3).
  3. Theater.
    1. to draw up the bottom edge of (a curtain, drop, etc.) and fold out of view; bag.
    2. to secure (lines) with a clew.
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Verb Phrases
  1. clew down, Nautical. to secure (a sail) in an unfurled position.
  2. clew up, Nautical. to haul (the lower corners of a square-rig sail) up to the yard by means of the clew lines.
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  1. spread a large clew, Nautical.
    1. to carry a large amount of sail.
    2. to present an impressive appearance.
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Origin of clew

before 900; Middle English clewe, Old English cleowen, cliewen, equivalent to cliew- (cognate with Old High German kliu ball) + -en -en5; akin to Dutch kluwen
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for clew

Historical Examples

  • I asked, astonished at Jim's behavior, and anxious for some clew by which to solve its mystery.

    The Underdog

    F. Hopkinson Smith

  • His behavior gave me no clew as to whether it had been a joyful or a sorrowful one.

    The First Violin

    Jessie Fothergill

  • It would be idle to travel on until this clew had been cleared up.

  • Now, it was clear to him Miss Kellett had a secret; or, at least, had the clew to one.

  • You are certainly not bent on giving me any clew to your motives, Fagan.

    Sir Jasper Carew

    Charles James Lever

British Dictionary definitions for clew


  1. a ball of thread, yarn, or twine
  2. nautical either of the lower corners of a square sail or the after lower corner of a fore-and-aft sail
  3. (usually plural) the rigging of a hammock
  4. a rare variant of clue
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  1. (tr) to coil or roll into a ball
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Word Origin

Old English cliewen (vb); related to Old High German kliu ball
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 clew


"ball of thread or yarn," northern English and Scottish relic of Old English cliewen "sphere, ball, skein, ball of thread or yarn," probably from West Germanic *kleuwin (cf. Old Saxon cleuwin, Dutch kluwen), from Proto-Germanic *kliwjo-, from PIE *gleu- "gather into a mass, conglomerate" (see clay).

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper