Definition of clam in US English:



  • 1A marine bivalve mollusk with shells of equal size.

    Subclass Heterodonta: several families and numerous species, including the edible North American hard-shell clam (see quahog) and soft-shell clam. See also giant clam

    • ‘In addition, the waters off the coast are known for their clams and scallops.’
    • ‘Environmental health officer Ray Parle explained that shellfish like mussels, oysters, clams and scallops filter their food from the water like a sieve.’
    • ‘Farmed shellfish, such as clams, mussels and oysters, are also sustainable; in fact, shellfish are filter feeders that leave the water cleaner than they found it.’
    • ‘And in asking the various fish vendors around Pike Place Market, I found that most of them liked to cook clams the simplest way… to steam them.’
    • ‘One tunnel was five and a half inches long, made by a clam whose shell measured less than two-tenths of an inch - a new record, relative to body size.’
    • ‘The Asian clam and the zebra mussel are probably the two most common exotic species, which have been introduced to North American freshwaters.’
    • ‘However, the region is known for its excellent seafood, especially lobster, crawfish, clams, scallops, and shrimp.’
    • ‘It can be found feeding on crabs, shrimps, clams, scallops, abalone and small fish.’
    • ‘The Castle Eden is an extremely scenic old steamship, lying in 33m on a clean bottom of mussel shells, clams and coarse gravel.’
    • ‘Shell the mussels and clams and set the flesh aside.’
    • ‘Scrub the mussels and clams, discarding any whose shells are gaping open or seem lifeless when you squeeze them.’
    • ‘She found clams with shells measuring 4.5 millimeters that had elongated their feet some 13 centimeters from the shell.’
    • ‘Starfish, sea-urchins, clams and corals lie just yards from the shore.’
    • ‘About 95% of fossilized creatures are marine animals: clams, snails, corals, fish, etc.’
    • ‘In addition to fish, other aquatic creatures such as clams and daphnia are used as indicators of chemical changes.’
    • ‘Soldiers reportedly prefer smaller, canned items such as sardines and clams for their compact size and longer shelf lives.’
    • ‘Many bivalves (such as clams or oysters) are used as food in places all over the world.’
    • ‘I used two size classes of clams for this experiment to compare variation in growth rates between different life history stages.’
    • ‘The vongole pizza (with clams in shells) is a singular delight.’
    • ‘Their tricuspid teeth (three sharp points per tooth) are especially adapted to feed on organisms with hard shells such as clams, snails, crabs and shrimp.’
    1. 1.1informal Any of a number of edible bivalve mollusks, e.g. a scallop.
  • 2US informal A dollar.

    ‘all I got for the job was 50 lousy clams’
    • ‘But are you willing to shell out the extra clams?’
    • ‘While that alone is reason enough to get me and most of my favorite people to shell out eight clams, I understand we're in the minority.’
    • ‘But the Pittsburgh Pens weren't about to shell out 1,000 clams for nothing.’
  • 3informal A shy or withdrawn person.


[no object]
  • 1North American Dig for or collect clams.

    ‘it was one of the worst times for clamming’
    • ‘The geese reminded me happily of why indeed I always feel somewhat philosophical when I go clamming.’
    • ‘The beaches are ideal for beach combing, clamming, and observing brown bears and other wildlife.’
    • ‘In this case, it would have been helpful to include material on Chesapeake Bay clamming and more material on the very active contemporary movement to ‘Save the Bay.’’
    • ‘Before clamming, check regulations for your destination on the California Department of Fish and Game website, (laws vary according to clam species and location).’
    • ‘Kris, his dad, and his brothers went clamming, while his mom and I went shopping at the outlets.’
    • ‘If I'm not allowed to clam or fish how can I eat?’
    • ‘I was born and raised in this state, clammed in its waters, went to school here, married a native New Yorker.’
    • ‘His family summered on Block Island and as a teenager, he occupied his days with an outboard skiff, fishing, clamming, and catching lobsters.’
    • ‘The boats have proven themselves suitable to jobs on the water such as clamming, lobstering and fishing.’
    • ‘‘Those oysters are a sign of a clean bay,’ he notes, adding that there's also excellent crabbing, salmon fishing, and clamming to be found here.’
    • ‘An 82-year-old man who went clamming in the Long Island Sound says he made the ultimate catch: the wedding ring he lost two years ago.’
    • ‘On Sunday when he went clamming with Dan, he was debating with himself about the future, knowing that he wanted to keep going as a firefighter a bit longer, while his family wanted him to retire.’
  • 2clam upinformal Abruptly stop talking, either for fear of revealing a secret or from shyness.

    • ‘This is not to say that you have to clam up totally about your accomplishments - no way!’
    • ‘If the environment's intimidating and suppressive, if it demeans, people tend to clam up.’
    • ‘If you are interrogating someone, perhaps they will clam up about some interesting questions, but at least you can be precise about what you are asking.’
    • ‘Some people willingly open up to her, others clam up, but in every case Anne-Marie feels she's connecting with them in a way she didn't before.’
    • ‘A lot of men really clam up and don't get deep on the subject of their feelings, and I think some of them feel that to show their feelings is a sign of weakness… am I right?’
    • ‘She replied that she wasn't talking about me, but when I asked her who was she talking about, she clammed up and could not answer.’
    • ‘Whenever it was time to do an interview I'd clam up because I'd think ‘what if the interviewee thinks I'd just asked a stupid question?’’
    • ‘The only time she clams up is when I ask about her boyfriend.’
    • ‘When he's around people he doesn't know he clams up completely and just stops talking.’
    • ‘Anyone who questioned his actions was portrayed as unpatriotic, a threat that caused many people to clam up.’
    • ‘And efforts to gather information from workers who had a lucky escape at the site were in vain as they simply clammed up.’
    • ‘I became suspicious when somebody mentioned at an earlier meeting that there had been a change of name, but when I pressed them further they clammed up.’
    • ‘Needless to say, the people that clammed up were not invited back for a second interview.’
    • ‘This was a problem, because around my crushes I clammed up and became quieter and clumsier than ever.’
    • ‘The plastic surgeon clams up if questioned about his patients.’
    • ‘Some men are more comfortable one-on-one, and clam up in a crowd.’
    • ‘But when I asked him for his opinion of missile-defense programs, the garrulous old scientist suddenly clammed up.’
    • ‘She was with a group of women sitting on a garden wall, surrounded by a gaggle of children, who clammed up initially at my and the photographer's approach.’
    • ‘On the subject of her marriage, she clams up.’
    • ‘People on dates usually clam up for fear of saying something stupid.’
    be quiet, keep quiet, stay quiet, be silent, keep silent, stay silent, hold one's tongue, keep one's lips sealed
    View synonyms


Early 16th century: apparently from earlier clam ‘a clamp’, from Old English clam, clamm ‘a bond or bondage’, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch klemme, German Klemme, also to clamp.