Clam up

Clam up is a idiom that came into use in the twentieth century. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beat around the bush, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, on the ball, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom clam up, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

To clam up means to go silent, to be quiet, to shut up, to refuse to speak. The idiom clam up is often used to describe the silence of a witness who is being interrogated. Clam up is an American idiom that was first seen in the 1910s, and references a bivalve or clam that shuts itself tight when confronted with a predator. It is very difficult to pry open a clam. The word clam is derived from the Germanic root, klam, which means squeezed together. Related phrases are clams up, clammed up, clamming up.


I suspect that if they clam up afterward and don’t ask anything else, it’s because they’re sensing your strong emotions, no matter how cheerfully you try to answer. (Outside Magazine)

Attaran, the law professor, agrees with Cotler and thinks ex-politicians like Chretien and McCallum should clam up while the matter is before the court. (Global News)

The 41-year-old Portage Township man said he intended to speak to the loss prevention officer on the way out of the store but then clammed up when it was pointed out he passed by the officer, who wound up chasing after him, police said. (The NWI Times)

Even Governor Hogan, who three months ago raised pointed questions about Mr. Loh’s role in the McNair tragedy, has clammed up.  (The Baltimore Sun)

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