from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A ball of yarn or thread.
  • n. Greek Mythology The ball of thread used by Theseus to find his way out of the labyrinth.
  • n. The cords by which a hammock is suspended.
  • n. Nautical One of the two lower corners of a square sail.
  • n. Nautical The lower aft corner of a fore-and-aft sail.
  • n. Nautical A metal loop attached to the lower corner of a sail.
  • transitive v. To roll or coil into a ball.
  • transitive v. Nautical To raise the lower corners of (a square sail) by means of clew lines. Used with up.
  • n. Chiefly British Variant of clue1.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A roughly spherical mass or body.
  • n. A ball of thread or yarn.
  • n. Yarn or thread as used to guide one's way through a maze or labyrinth; a guide, a clue.
  • n. 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 clew is the trailing corner relative to the wind direction.
  • n. The sheets so attached to a sail.
  • n. The cords suspending a hammock.
  • n. Archaic form of clue.
  • v. to roll into a ball
  • v. (transitive and intransitive) to raise the lower corner(s) of (a sail)

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A ball of thread, yarn, or cord; also, The thread itself.
  • n. That which guides or directs one in anything of a doubtful or intricate nature; that which gives a hint in the solution of a mystery.
  • n.
  • n. A lower corner of a square sail, or the after corner of a fore-and-aft sail.
  • n. A loop and thimbles at the corner of a sail.
  • n. A combination of lines or nettles by which a hammock is suspended.
  • transitive v. To direct; to guide, as by a thread.
  • transitive v. To move of draw (a sail or yard) by means of the clew garnets, clew lines, etc.; esp. to draw up the clews of a square sail to the yard.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • See clue.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a ball of yarn or cord or thread
  • v. roll into a ball
  • n. evidence that helps to solve a problem


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

Middle English clewe, from Old English cliwen.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Middle English clewe from Old English cleowen, cliewen, cliwen, from Proto-Germanic *kliuwinan (“ball”), from Proto-Indo-European *glew- (“to conglomerate, gather into a mass”). Akin to Old English clǣġ ("clay").


  • Red Cow never saw Marcus O'Brien again, and though many conjectures were entertained, no certain clew was ever gained to dispel the mystery of his passing.

    The Passing of Marcus O'Brien

  • The only thing in the nature of a clew was a moccasin track, and that led to young McCrae, whom, for Sheila's sake, he did not wish to involve.

    Desert Conquest or, Precious Waters

  • More and more I puzzled as the days went by, and though I observed perpetual examples of his undisputed sovereignty, never a clew was there as to how it was.

    "Yah! Yah! Yah!"

  • The square sails themselves are controlled by drawlines called clew-garnets running up from the lower corners, leechlines running in diagonally from the middle of the outside edges, buntlines running up from the foot, and spilling lines, to spill the wind in heavy {107} weather.

    All Afloat A Chronicle of Craft and Waterways

  • Far too many people sail to Mexico without having a 'clew' about how to properly reef or heave to.

    Latitude 38's First Timer's Guide To Mexico - Boating

  • But you can't hang a "clew" for murder, and so after that detective had got through and gone home, Tom felt just as insecure as he was before.

    The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

  • * Why should DMCA anti-reverse-engineering provisions apply to works that have already been elevated into the public domain? clew says:

    Matthew Yglesias » Intellectual Property is About Consumers

  • Well, it was that bit of verse that gave me the clew.


  • No word, no clew, no hint, of the divine had ever reached him before.

    Chapter 3

  • I listened, but could get no clew as to where he was.



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  • JM has a clue that a clew is more than a painter in a corner

    October 5, 2010

  • Thrashing through a tearing gale with a dark green sea ahead,

    While the funnel clews sing madly against a sky of red,

    Foam choked and wave choked, scarred by battered gear,

    The long brown decks are whirling seas where silver combers rear.

    - Gordon Malherbe Hillman, 'The Tankers'.

    September 23, 2009

  • See another interesting usage on earing.

    March 5, 2008

  • Also, the ball of yarn that Ariadne gave to Theseus to help him escape the minotaur's labyrinth; origin of the word clue.

    There is also a path planning algorithm known as Ariadne's clew.

    November 9, 2007

  • In nautical terms, either lower corner of a square sail or the after lower corner of a fore-and-aft sail.

    November 9, 2007

  • S'pose he don't do nothing with it? ain't it there in his bed, for a clew, after he's gone? and don't you reckon they'll want clews? HF 35

    December 8, 2006