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[hem] /hɛm/

(an utterance resembling a slight clearing of the throat, used to attract attention, express doubt, etc.)
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, hemming.
to utter the sound “hem.”.
to hesitate in speaking.
hem and haw,

an edge to a piece of cloth, made by folding the raw edge under and stitching it down
short for hemline
verb (transitive) hems, hemming, hemmed
to provide with a hem
usually foll by in, around, or about. to enclose or confine
noun, interjection
a representation of the sound of clearing the throat, used to gain attention, express hesitation, etc
verb hems, hemming, hemmed
(intransitive) to utter this sound
hem and haw, hum and haw, to hesitate in speaking or in making a decision

Old English hem “a border,” especially of cloth or a garment, from Proto-Germanic *hamjam (cf. Old Norse hemja “to bridle, curb,” Swedish hämma “to stop, restrain,” Old Frisian hemma “to hinder,” Middle Dutch, German hemmen “to hem in, stop, hinder”), from PIE *kem- “to compress.” Apparently the same root yielded Old English hamm, common in place names (where it means “enclosure, land hemmed in by water or high ground, land in a river bend”). In Middle English, hem also was a symbol of pride or ostentation.

If þei wer þe first þat schuld puplysch þese grete myracles of her mayster, men myth sey of hem, as Crist ded of þe Pharisees, þat þei magnified her owne hemmys. [John Capgrave, “Life of Saint Gilbert of Sempringham,” 1451]


late 15c., probably imitative of the sound of clearing the throat. Hem and haw first recorded 1786, from haw “hesitation” (1630s; see haw (v.)); hem and hawk attested from 1570s.

late 14c., “to provide (something) with a border or fringe” (surname Hemmer attested from c.1300), from hem (n.). Related: Hemmed; hemming. The phrase hem in “shut in, confine,” first recorded 1530s.

of a garment, the fringe of a garment. The Jews attached much importance to these, because of the regulations in Num. 15:38, 39. These borders or fringes were in process of time enlarged so as to attract special notice (Matt. 23:5). The hem of Christ’s garment touched (9:20; 14:36; Luke 8:44).


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