Hem and haw or hum and haw

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Hem and haw is an expression that dates back to the mid-seventeenth century. We will examine the definition of the term hem and haw, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

To hem and haw means to dither, to speak hesitantly, usually because one is unprepared to speak or is attempting to avoid saying something in particular. Hem and haw is also used to mean to be indecisive. Related phrases are hems and haws, hemmed and hawed, hemming and hawing. The term hem and haw first appeared in the 1630s. The word hem is an imitative word of a throat clearing, and the word haw is related to the term haw-haw, which references a haughty British accent. The phrase hem and haw is primarily an American term.

Hum and haw is the British equivalent of hem and haw. Related phrases are hums and haws, hummed and hawed, humming and hawing.


“Faced with clear violations of the public trust, they hem and haw,” Greitens wrote of the Clintons. (The St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

The nerf has been the subject of plenty of interviews with pro players, endless hemming and hawing on forums, articles and more. (Forbes Magazine)

We cannot let another generation suffer from our societal ignorance while we hem and haw about the need for more studies. (The Huffington Post)

I start to hum and haw, and mutter things about ethics, and not being allowed to accept freebies and all that. (The Daily Mail)

When I’m asked about its appeal, outside of fiesta, I hum and haw, as though I don’t want to expose its magic to the cold light of day. (The Telegraph)