Definition of hew
- roughly hewn logs
- hew a tree
- hewed their farms from the wilderness
- —J. T. Shotwell
They hewed logs to build a cabin.
The walls are built of stones hewn by skilled craftsmen.
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Hew is a strong, simple word of Anglo-Saxon descent. It can suggest actual ax-wielding, or it can be figurative: "If ... our ambition hews and shapes [our] new relations, their virtue escapes, as strawberries lose their flavor in garden-beds" (Ralph Waldo Emerson). It's easy to see how the figurative "shape" sense of "hew" developed from the literal hacking sense, but what does chopping have to do with adhering and conforming? That sense first appeared in the late 1800s in the phrase "hew to the line." The "hew line" is a line marked along the length of a log indicating where to chop in order to shape a beam. "Hewing to the line," literally, is cutting along the mark-adhering to it-until the side of the log is squared.
First Known Use: before 12th centurySee Words from the same year
: to shape (something) by cutting with a sharp tool (such as an ax)
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