Posted by James Briggs on February 25, 2006
In Reply to: Hemmed and hawed posted by Bruce Kahl on February 24, 2006
: : I am curious about the origin of "hemmed and hawed..."
: See link below for a possibility.
Here's what I've found out.
Hem and Haw isn't recorded until 1786. But it is found centuries earlier in similar expressions such as to hem and hawk, hem and ha, and hum and ha, which Shakespeare used. These are all sounds made in clearing the throat when we are about to speak. When a speaker constantly makes them without speaking he is usually hesitating out of uncertainty, which suggested the phrase. Said the first writer to record the idea in 1469: "He wold have gotyn it aweye by humys and by hays but I would not so be answered. " The modern version is to "Um & Ah".