My Glenii was in his “library” reading the other day and came out asking my daughter or I to give him a clew. We both looked at him questionably. The look then continued across the room to each other. I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. As we slowly looked up from our crocheting he asked again “Will one of you hand me a clew”. Finally our dazed look must of given away our ignorance and he finally told us that it is (according to the July/August 2012 Readers digest) A ball of yarn.

The light bulb went off!

I decided to do some research and inform any of you that may of been as befuddled as I was.

According to

(each dictionary site eg, and had almost exactly the same definations )

clew [kluː] n

  1. a ball of thread, yarn, or twine
  2. (Transport / Nautical Terms) Nautical either of the lower corners of a square sail or the after lower corner of a fore-and-aft sail
  3. (Transport / Nautical Terms) (usually plural) the rigging of a hammock
  4. a rare variant of clue vb (tr) to coil or roll into a ball
[Old English cliewen (vb); related to Old High German kliu ball] Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

I don’t know how familiar any of you are with, but they ask why you were interested in that particular word when you look one up. After I summed up the above story in two lines, I read through the other comments finding that many of them suggest that clew may have been used as an alternate spelling for clue in several books and even in film in the early 1900’s.

Some of the works cited:

  • 1938 film “ The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse”
  • John Dewey, Experience and Education (1938)
  • Evolution of Physics by Einstein and Leopold Infield

These are of course only a few but what I found interesting was in response to the comment referring to Evolution of Physics in it you are directed to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

I looked at and it says:

  1. clew (n.) “ball of thread or yarn,” northern English and Scottish relic of O.E. cliewen “sphere, ball, skein,” probably from W.Gmc. *kleuwin (cf. O.S. cleuwin, Du. kluwen), from P.Gmc. *kliwjo-, from I.E. *gleu- “gather into a mass, conglomerate” (see clay).
  2. clue (n.) 1590s, phonetic variant of clew “a ball of thread or yarn,” with reference to the one Theseus used as a guide out of the Labyrinth. The purely figurative sense of “that which points the way” is from 1620s.

The second one here is what caught my interest, because this is where I actually made the connection between the two spellings. In my head I went “Oh ok so you ball up or collect your clues and they guide you to the answer like Theseus’ clew led him out of the Labyrinth.”

Long story short, I like to learn new words I even have the app on my phone and check it often to see what the word of the day is. If I like a word I try to incorporate it into my life and from now on I will refer to my balls of scrap yarn as clews.

So, if there is any words that you hear and think I might like be sure to let me know I may coalesce them into my everyday life.

About Tami

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2 responses »

  1. We never stop learning new things. I like words too! I’ll be saving “clew” for Scrabble 🙂


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