Ham it up

Ham it up is an idiom with roots in a term popular in the 1800s. 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.

Examples

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)