Word of the Day : October 19, 2012


verb HYOO


1 : to cut or fell with blows (as of an ax)

2 : to give shape to with or as if with an ax

3 : to conform or to adhere

Did You Know?

"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.


Josh was never one to hew to policies with which he disagreed.

"Typically at this point on the political calendar, a sitting vice president scrupulously downplays his interest in ascending to the top job.... Vice presidents as varied as Walter Mondale, George H.W. Bush, and Al Gore all gamely hewed to this script." - From an article by Noam Scheiber in The New Republic, August 24, 2012

Word Family Quiz

What close relative of "hew" begins with "r" and can mean "crudely formed" or "lacking refinement"? The answer is ...


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