hem

2
[ hem ]
/ hɛm /

interjection

(an utterance resembling a slight clearing of the throat, used to attract attention, express doubt, etc.)

noun

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, hem·ming.

to utter the sound “hem.”
to hesitate in speaking.

Idioms

    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.

Origin of hem

2
First recorded in 1520–30; imitative
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for hem and haw (1 of 2)

hem

1
/ (hɛm) /

noun

an edge to a piece of cloth, made by folding the raw edge under and stitching it down
short for hemline

verb hems, hemming or hemmed (tr)

to provide with a hem
(usually foll by in, around, or about) to enclose or confine

Word Origin for hem

Old English hemm; related to Old Frisian hemme enclosed land

British Dictionary definitions for hem and haw (2 of 2)

hem

2
/ (hɛm) /

noun, interjection

a representation of the sound of clearing the throat, used to gain attention, express hesitation, etc

verb hems, hemming or hemmed

(intr) to utter this sound
hem and haw or 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

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]

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