noun (used with a plural verb)

Informal. pajamas.

Origin of jams

First recorded in 1965–70; by shortening




a brand of baggy, brightly patterned, knee-length swim trunks.



verb (used with object), jammed, jam·ming.

to press, squeeze, or wedge tightly between bodies or surfaces, so that motion or extrication is made difficult or impossible: The ship was jammed between two rocks.
to bruise or crush by squeezing: She jammed her hand in the door.
to fill too tightly; cram: He jammed the suitcase with clothing.
to press, push, or thrust violently, as into a confined space or against some object: She jammed her foot on the brake.
to fill or block up by crowding; pack or obstruct: Crowds jammed the doors.
to put or place in position with a violent gesture (often followed by on): He jammed his hat on and stalked out of the room.
to make (something) unworkable by causing parts to become stuck, blocked, caught, displaced, etc.: to jam a lock.
  1. to interfere with (radio signals or the like) by sending out other signals of approximately the same frequency.
  2. (of radio signals or the like) to interfere with (other signals).
to play (a piece) in a freely improvised, swinging way; jazz up: to jam both standard tunes and the classics.
Nautical. to head (a sailing ship) as nearly as possible into the wind without putting it in stays or putting it wholly aback.

verb (used without object), jammed, jam·ming.

to become stuck, wedged, fixed, blocked, etc.: This door jams easily.
to press or push, often violently, as into a confined space or against one another: They jammed into the elevator.
(of a machine, part, etc.) to become unworkable, as through the wedging or displacement of a part.
Jazz. to participate in a jam session.


the act of jamming or the state of being jammed.
a mass of objects, vehicles, etc., jammed together or otherwise unable to move except slowly: a log jam; a traffic jam.
Informal. a difficult or embarrassing situation; fix: He got himself into a jam with his boss.

Origin of jam

1700–10; apparently imitative; cf. champ1, dam1




a preserve of whole fruit, slightly crushed, boiled with sugar: strawberry jam.

Origin of jam

First recorded in 1720–30; perhaps special use of jam1
Related formsjam·like, jam·my, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

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British Dictionary definitions for jams



verb jams, jamming or jammed

(tr) to cram or wedge into or against somethingto jam paper into an incinerator
(tr) to crowd or packcars jammed the roads
to make or become stuck or lockedthe switch has jammed
(tr often foll by on) to activate suddenly (esp in the phrase jam on the brakes)
(tr) to block; congestto jam the drain with rubbish
(tr) to crush, bruise, or squeeze; smash
radio to prevent the clear reception of (radio communications or radar signals) by transmitting other signals on the same frequency
(intr) slang to play in a jam session


a crowd or congestion in a confined spacea traffic jam
the act of jamming or the state of being jammed
informal a difficult situation; predicamentto help a friend out of a jam
Derived Formsjammer, noun

Word Origin for jam

C18: probably of imitative origin; compare champ 1




a preserve containing fruit, which has been boiled with sugar until the mixture sets
slang something desirableyou want jam on it
jam today the principle of living for the moment

Word Origin for jam

C18: perhaps from jam 1 (the act of squeezing)
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 jams

1966, abstracted from pajamas (q.v.).



"to press tightly," also "to become wedged," 1706, of unknown origin, perhaps a variant of champ (v.). Of a malfunction in the moving parts of machinery, by 1851. Sense of "cause interference in radio signals" is from 1914. Related: Jammed; jamming. The adverb is recorded from 1825, from the verb.



"fruit preserve," 1730s, probably a special use of jam (v.) with a sense of "crush fruit into a preserve."



"a tight pressing between two surfaces," 1806, from jam (v.). Jazz meaning "short, free improvised passage performed by the whole band" dates from 1929, and yielded jam session (1933); but this is perhaps from jam (n.1) in sense of "something sweet, something excellent." Sense of "machine blockage" is from 1890, which probably led to the colloquial meaning "predicament, tight spot," first recorded 1914.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

jams in Medicine




To block, congest, or clog.
To crush or bruise.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Idioms and Phrases with jams


see under get in a bind.

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