Ham it up

Ham it up is an idiom with roots in a term popular in the 1800s. 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 descriptors that are spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase or expression 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 that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, hit the nail on the head, kicked the bucket, blow off steam, jump on the bandwagon, piece of cake, hit the sack, 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 ham it up, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To ham it up means to overact, to play the buffoon or the entertainer in a social situation, to exaggerate the depiction of emotions. The term ham it up is used most often to describe an unskillful dramatic performance, but may be used to describe someone performing in broad strokes while speaking or telling a story for a social circle of people. Though no authoritative source exists for the etymological origin of the idiom ham it up, we do know it was first recorded in the United States in the 1930s. The term is derived from an expression popular in the 1880s, hamfatter. The word hamfatter is derived from a minstrel song popular at that time, The Ham-fat Man. A hamfatter was an amateur entertainer in American English, named after the ham fat he would use to remove his stage makeup. Inflections of the idiom ham it up are hams it up, hammed it up, hamming it up, which conjugate the verb ham. In addition, an actor who loves the limelight, overacting or over-emoting, is called a ham.


Tiffany Haddish and Billy Crystal ham it up as they are spotted on the set of Here Today in NYC (The Daily Mail)

The trailer also gives James Corden and Jason Derulo ample time to ham it up as Bustopher Jones and Rum Tum Tugger, respectively (a sentence I, for one, never thought I would write). (Vanity Fair)

You need to bring the passage alive but don’t want to ham it up: the focus must be on the text, not you, and the Book speaks for itself because it’s quite simply one of the greatest achievements in the English language. (The Catholic Herald)

Kathleen Turner makes the case that she should be crowned Queen of the Appalachians, hamming it up as a fortuneteller in an episode inspired by “These Old Bones,” while Julianne Hough manages to rock both the acoustic guitar and Daisy Duke shorts in a sympathetic yarn about Jolene. (The Minneapolis Star Tribune)

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