1 : a ball of thread, yarn, or cord
2 : something that guides through an intricate procedure or maze of difficulties : clue
3 a : a lower corner or only the after corner of a sail
b : a metal loop attached to the lower corner of a sail
c : (plural) a combination of lines by which a hammock is suspended
Did You Know?
The "ball of thread" meaning of clew (from Middle English clewe and ultimately from Old English cliewen) has been with us since before the 12th century. In Greek mythology, Ariadne gave a ball of thread to Theseus so that he could use it to find his way out of her father's labyrinth. This, and similar tales, gave rise to the use of clew for anything that could guide a person through a difficult place. This use led, in turn, to the meaning "a piece of evidence that leads one toward the solution of a problem." Today, the variant spelling clue, which appeared in the 17th century, is the more common spelling for the "evidence" sense, but you'll find clew in some famous works of literature. Also, clew is the only choice for the sailing senses.
"High overhead, topmen scrambled to furl and unfurl sails and tend to yards and booms and spars and various clews." — Corey Kilgannon, The New York Times, 30 Aug. 2009
"But this boldness that I took to be presumption was a vital clew to the nature of Ernest Everhard." — Jack London, The Iron Heel, 1908
Test Your Vocabulary with M-W Quizzes
Test Your Vocabulary
Fill in the blanks to complete a noun that refers to something serving as a guide to understanding or knowledge: fi _ _ _ rpo _ _.VIEW THE ANSWER
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