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.
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.
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.
  1. spread a large clew, Nautical.
    1. to carry a large amount of sail.
    2. to present an impressive appearance.

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 Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for clew up

clew up

  1. (adverb) nautical to furl (a square sail) by gathering its clews up to the yard by means of clew lines


  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
  1. (tr) to coil or roll into a ball

Word Origin for clew

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 up



"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).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper