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from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. An edge or border on a piece of cloth, especially a finished edge, as for a garment or curtain, made by folding an edge under and stitching it down.
  • n. The height or level of the bottom edge of a skirt, dress, or coat; a hemline.
  • transitive v. To fold back and stitch down the edge of.
  • transitive v. To surround and shut in; enclose: a valley hemmed in by mountains. See Synonyms at enclose.
  • n. A short cough or clearing of the throat made especially to gain attention, warn another, hide embarrassment, or fill a pause in speech.
  • intransitive v. To utter a hem.
  • intransitive v. To hesitate in speech.
  • idiom hem and haw To be hesitant and indecisive; equivocate: "a leader who cannot make up his or her mind, never knows what to do, hems and haws” ( Margaret Thatcher).

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • interj. Used to fill in the gap of a pause with a vocalized sound.
  • n. The border of an article of clothing doubled back and stitched together to finish the edge and prevent it from fraying.
  • n. A rim or margin of something.
  • n. In sheet metal design, a rim or edge folded back on itself to create a smooth edge and to increase strength or rigidity.
  • v. (in sewing) To make a hem.
  • v. (in speaking) To make a sound like hem (usually coupled with "haw" as in "hemmed and hawed.")
  • v. : To put hem on an article of clothing, to edge or put a border on something.
  • v. : To surround something or someone in a confining way.
  • pro. Obsolete form of 'em.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • pro. Them.
  • interj. An onomatopoetic word used as an expression of hesitation, doubt, etc. It is often a sort of voluntary half cough, loud or subdued, and would perhaps be better expressed by hm.
  • n. An utterance or sound of the voice, hem or hm, often indicative of hesitation or doubt, sometimes used to call attention.
  • intransitive v. To make the sound expressed by the word hem; hence, to hesitate in speaking.
  • n. The edge or border of a garment or cloth, doubled over and sewed, to strengthen it and prevent raveling.
  • n. Border; edge; margin.
  • n. A border made on sheet-metal ware by doubling over the edge of the sheet, to stiffen it and remove the sharp edge.
  • transitive v. To form a hem or border to; to fold and sew down the edge of.
  • transitive v. To border; to edge.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A narrow fold in the edge of a piece of textile material, made to prevent it from raveling.
  • n. Edge; border; margin.
  • n. In architecture, the projecting spiral of the Ionic capital.
  • To form a hem or border to; fold and sew down the edge of: as, to hem an apron.
  • To border; edge.
  • To inclose; circumscribe; limit or confine by an environment of any kind: with in, about, or around.
  • An interjectional utterance, a sort of voluntary half-cough, intended to attract the attention of a particular person, to cover embarrassment by feigned indifference or hesitation, etc. Also ahem.
  • To make the sound expressed by the word hem; hence, to hesitate or stammer in speaking: as, to hem and haw.
  • To remove or otherwise affect by coughing.
  • See he, I., D .
  • See hemato-.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • v. utter `hem' or `ahem'
  • n. the edge of a piece of cloth; especially the finished edge that has been doubled under and stitched down
  • v. fold over and sew together to provide with a hem
  • n. the utterance of a sound similar to clearing the throat; intended to get attention, express hesitancy, fill a pause, hide embarrassment, warn a friend, etc.


Middle English, from Old English hem, hemm.
From Middle English heminge, coughing, of imitative origin.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
A sound uttered in imitation of clearing the throat (onomatopoeia) (Wiktionary)
From Middle English hem, hemm, in turn from Old English hemm and related to Middle High German hemmen ("to hem in"), Old Norse hemja ("to hem in, restrain"). The Proto-Indo-European root gave rise also to Armenian քամել (k'amel, "to press, wring") and Russian ком (kom, "lump"). (Wiktionary)
Old English him, heom, originally a dative plural form but in Middle English coming to serve as an accusative plural as well. (Wiktionary)


  • ‘Course, another reason that couples stayed together in the past was that women actually having jobs beyond washerwoman/alewyf/seamstress - hem hem**/ wise woman that paid a living wage is a comparatively recent phenomenon.

    Tax before marriage

  • When seated, the dress hem is still nice and long.

    Home Living

  • "If this, señor," he said, breaking off, "does not win the señorita, we will try -- what you call hem -- direct action.

    The Desert Fiddler

  • She "hem" - ed and "ha" - ed for awhile, and her simpering ways were just beginning to tell on my nerves, when she suddenly started talking very fast.

    Lady Molly of Scotland Yard

  • I am trimming them with lace or rickrack or just a plain hem.

    Home Living

  • Reviewed by: Type reviewer name hem DOC Library: Type 1ibrary name here

    David Isenberg: The GAO Transcripts, Part 15: Coordination is Easier Said Than Done

  • - I want a big circle skirt, black, where the hem is a four-inch border of grey mother-of-pearl buttons, in a bunch of different sizes.

    In Praise of Buttons - A Dress A Day

  • Whitestone, the ladies would sew wool/mohair braid around the hems of their skirts - that is, the hem itself would be INSIDE the "braid sandwich" the braid was really just flat tape, a little like our hem bindings.

    Dust Ho! - A Dress A Day

  • Maybe you can say, the hem is a little weird, can I get 10 percent off?

    CNN Transcript Dec 12, 2008

  • The length is fairly conservative—just below the knees—and the hem is a handkerchief, one of my favorites.

    Disenchanted Princess


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