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What does hmm mean?
Where does hmm come from?
While English speakers have long been making hmm sounds in everyday speech, hmm isn’t attested in the written record until the 1850s, probably as a variant form of hum, hem, and h’m, evidenced by the late 16th century. A simple vocalization, hmm is also incredibly versatile, used with different tones to mark discourse in many ways.
Hmm can request clarification with rising intonation: “Hmm? I didn’t hear you—say what?” It can reinforce a concern when inserted midway or at the end of a question: “What’s wrong, honey? Hmm? What’s going on?”
Hmm can indicate thought or reflection with a steady tone: “Hmm, I’ll need to look into that.” An elongated hmmm can express thinking more deeply. The interjection can express wonder or surprise when uttered briefly and at a higher pitch: “Hm! I never knew that!” It can show curiosity or uncertainty: “Hmm, wonder what’s for dinner.”
Hmm can convey irony or suspicion: “Baked a dozen cookies this morning. Two left. Wife says she doesn’t know but chocolate’s all over her mouth. Hmm.” Hmm can also signal dissatisfaction or disagreement, often as a curt, low-pitched hm: “Hm. Yeah right. Like you really mean it.” Sometimes, hmm just acts as a place-holder or fills a pause in a conversation: “It’s been great talking with you. Well, hmm, guess I should be going, though.”
As the many meanings of hmm spread into writing, hmm also took on a life of its own online. Social-media feeds, such as Reddit’s /r/hmm message board or Twitter’s “#hmm” hashtag, designate content that “makes one go hmm,” or consider something with wry skepticism. This hmm is used to comment on the oddity or ridiculousness of some image or situation.
How is hmm used in real life?
In digital communication, use of hmm to indicate thought or irony are particularly widespread. To help indicate such tone, many users supplement or substitute hmm with the Thinking Face emoji. The Neutral Face emoji, is sometimes paired with hm, expressing a gruffer dissatisfaction.
Hmm is not to be confused with mmm, communicating pleasure, or mhmm, which shows acknowledgment or agreement.
This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.
Example sentences from the Web for hmm
Hmm, who are these people standing in front of the machines at the gym, neither occupying them nor not occupying them?
Hmm, I can think of one self-respecting sister who would hide.Lifetime’s ‘Girlfriend Intervention’: The Fairy Black Mothers TV Doesn’t Need|Phoebe Robinson|September 25, 2014|DAILY BEAST
To which one would say: Hmm, the homeless man with perfect organs would have had to have been over 500 years old.
She pulls and pinches at the fabric and says, “Hmm,” which is hard to interpret.Jacob Tomsky Wears Mantyhose (Men’s Pantyhose) for a Week|Jacob Tomsky|February 19, 2013|DAILY BEAST
Hmm, I wonder what it was about Obama that inflamed passions so.Michael Tomasky on How the GOP Invented Mitt Romney’s “Moochers”|Michael Tomasky|September 20, 2012|DAILY BEAST
"Hmm, convulsions," he finally said softly to himself, and Mr. Narkom watched his face with intense eagerness.
Hmm; most young ladies who have visited us have seemed afraid rather than pleased.
I will take the picture off his hands and allow him—hmm—maybe two hundred dollars; or, he can take it and owe me that much more.
Hmm—he might, although a foreigner, be forced to take a journey to Siberia.Prince Zilah, Complete|Jules Claretie
Hmm, it's not as fragrant as might be; that is, Not before it's smeared.Lysistrata|Aristophanes