English

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Alternative forms

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Etymology

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hem + and + haw

Pronunciation

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  • Audio (US):(file)

Verb

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hem and haw (third-person singular simple present hems and haws, present participle hemming and hawing, simple past and past participle hemmed and hawed)

  1. (idiomatic, US) To discuss, deliberate, or contemplate rather than taking action or making up one's mind.
    If you hem and haw long enough, someone else will do it first.
  2. To mumble and procrastinate in one's speech, especially with a reply to a hard question or with voicing a decision on a topical matter; to evade a question, giving vague answers; to equivocate or temporize.
    Synonym: (chiefly Britain, dialectal, archaic) hacker
    • 1903, The People of the Abyss, by Jack London, Chapter 1
      The man at the Chief Office hemmed and hawed. 'We make it a rule,' he explained, 'to give no information concerning our clients.' 'But in this case,' I urged, 'it is the client who requests you to give the information concerning himself.' Again he hemmed and hawed.
    • 1959 July 15, Walt Kelly, Pogo (comic strip), →ISBN, page 58:
      [Pogo:] How can you provide [someone] with scripts what tells him what to say all day long? [] / [Howland Owl:] It's a boon to humanity … How many dolts do you know who hems an' haws their way thru life? – I gives 'em talk.

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