[ ham ]
/ hæm /


an actor or performer who overacts.
an operator of an amateur radio station.

verb (used with or without object), hammed, ham·ming.

to act with exaggerated expression of emotion; overact.



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Idioms for ham

    ham it up, to overact; ham.

Origin of ham

1880–85; short for hamfatter, after The Hamfat Man, a black minstrel song celebrating an awkward man
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

British Dictionary definitions for ham up (1 of 2)

/ (hæm) /


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

Word Origin for ham

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

British Dictionary definitions for ham up (2 of 2)

/ (hæm) /


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
  1. a licensed amateur radio operator
  2. (as modifier)a ham licence

verb hams, hamming or hammed

informal to overact

Word Origin for ham

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

Cultural definitions for ham up


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.

notes for Ham

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.

notes for Ham

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.

Idioms and Phrases with ham up

ham up

Exaggerate or overdo, especially with extravagant emotion, as in Hamming up the eulogy was disgraceful, especially since he didn't even know the deceased. It is also put as ham it up, meaning “overact,” as in She loves to ham it up in front of the class. This idiom probably alludes to the hamfat (lard) used to remove stage makeup, mentioned in the minstrel song, “The Ham-Fat Man.” From this hamfatter came to mean “an inexpert and flamboyant actor,” and was in the late 1800s shortened to ham. The idiom here was first recorded in 1933.

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