Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search


English Wikipedia has an article on:


Middle English clewe, from Old English cleowen, cliewen, cliwen (sphere, ball, skein; ball of thread or yarn; mass, group), from Proto-Germanic *kliuwiną, *klewô (ball, bale), from Proto-Indo-European *glew- (to conglomerate, gather into a mass; clump, ball, bale). Akin to Old English clǣġ (clay).



clew (plural clews)

  1. (obsolete) A roughly spherical mass or body.
    • c. 1600, Charles Estienne and Jean Liebault, tr. Richard Surflet, Maison Rustique, or, The Countrie Farme:
      If the whole troupe be diuided into many clewes, or round bunches, you need not then doubt but that there are many kings.
    • 1796, John Gabriel Stedman, The Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam:
      Both these creatures, by forming themselves in a clew, have often more the appearance of excrescences in the bark, than that of animals.
  2. (archaic) A ball of thread or yarn.
    • c. 1604-5, William Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well, Act 1, Scene 3:
      If it be ſo, you have wound a goodly clew:
      If it be not, forſwear't: howe'er, I charge thee,
    • 1831, Victor Hugo, tr. Isabel Florence Hapgood, The Hunchback of Notre Dame:
      A rare, precious, and never interrupted race of philosophers to whom wisdom, like another Ariadne, seems to have given a clew of thread which they have been walking along unwinding since the beginning of the world, through the labyrinth of human affairs.
    • 1889, Andrew Lang, The Blue Fairy Book, "The story of Prince Ahmed and the fairy Paribanou":
      The Fairy Paribanou was at that time very hard at work, and, as she had several clews of thread by her, she took up one, and, presenting it to Prince Ahmed, said: "First take this clew of thread...
    • 1962, Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire:
      on one side of her lay a pair of carpet slippers and on the other a ball of red wool, the leading filament of which she would tug at every now and then with the immemorial elbow jerk of a Zemblan knitter to give a turn to her yarn clew and slacken the thread.
  3. Yarn or thread as used to guide one's way through a maze or labyrinth; a guide, a clue.
  4. (nautical) The lower corner(s) of a sail to which a sheet is attached for trimming the sail (adjusting its position relative to the wind); the metal loop or cringle in the corner of the sail, to which the sheet is attached. (on a triangular sail) The trailing corner relative to the wind direction.
    • 1858, Walter Mitchell, Tacking Ship Off Shore:
      'Mid the rattle of blocks and the tramp of the crew,
      Hisses the rain of the rushing squall;
      The sails are aback from clew to clew,
      And now is the moment for "MAINSAIL, HAUL!"
    • 1858, The Atlantic Monthly, "The Language of the Sea":
      "Clew" is Saxon; "garnet" (from granato, a fruit) is Italian,—that is, the garnet- or pomegranate-shaped block fastened to the clew or corner of the courses, and hence the rope running through the block.
    • 1894, James Hudson Taylor, A Retrospect:
      I went over and asked him to let down the clews or corners of the mainsail, which had been drawn up in order to lessen the useless flapping of the sail against the rigging.
    • 1901, John Conroy Hutcheson, The Ghost Ship:
      "Run aft, Haldane, and you too, Spokeshave. Loosen the bunt of the mizzen-trysail and haul at the clew. That’ll bring her up to the wind fast enough, if the sail only stands it!"
  5. (in the plural) The sheets so attached to a sail.
    • 1913, John Masefield, Dauber
      The canvas running up in a proud sweep,
      Wind-wrinkled at the clews, and white like lint,
  6. (nautical, in the plural) The cords suspending a hammock.
    • 2000, Ralph W Danklefsen, The Navy I Remember, Xlibris 2000, p. 21:
      He taught us how to attach the clews to the ends of the hammock and then lash it between jack stays.
  7. Obsolete form of clue.
    • 1848, Thomas Babington Macaulay, The History of England from the Accession of James II, Volume III, 1856, Harper & Brothers, New York, page 13,
      The clew, without which it was perilous to enter the vast and intricate maze of Continental politics, was in his hands.
    • 1864, Andrew Forrester, The Female Detective:
      Now, the fact is, I had started because I thought I saw the end of a good clew.
    • 1910, "Duck Eats Yeast," The Yakima Herald:
      Telltale marks around the pan of yeast gave him a clew to the trouble.
    • 1912, Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of Mars, 1964, A Princess of Mars and A Fighting Man of Mars, Dover, page 65,
      They had followed immediately behind him, thinking it barely possible that his actions might prove a clew to my whereabouts and had witnessed my short but decisive battle with him.

Coordinate terms[edit]

  • (lower corner of a sail): bunt

Derived terms[edit]

  • (lower corner of a sail ; metal loop or cringle in the corner of the sail): clewline



clew (third-person singular simple present clews, present participle clewing, simple past and past participle clewed)

  1. (transitive) to roll into a ball
  2. (nautical) (transitive and intransitive) to raise the lower corner(s) of (a sail)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Clew” in John Walker, A Critical Pronouncing Dictionary [] , London: Sold by G. G. J. and J. Robinſon, Paternoſter Row; and T. Cadell, in the Strand, 1791, →OCLC, page 145.

Middle English[edit]



  1. Alternative form of clewe