Definition of clew in US English:



  • 1The lower or after corner of a sail.

    • ‘A clew of the sail is fixed to the slide allowing the sail to be orientated without a need for a boom.’
    • ‘I started to give the outhaul a good yank to get the foot of the main tight and the damned thing came off in my hand along with a piece of the sail containing the clew.’
    • ‘Hullo is a rectangular shaped flat wooden plank seater with its four corners fixed to the roof by means of metal clews which can swing.’
    • ‘The lower trailing corner 12 of the sail is known as the clew, and typically incorporates an eyelet, or a series of eyelets.’
  • 2clewsSailing
    The cords by which a hammock is suspended.

    • ‘Tie the clew down to the boom using a reef knot.’
    • ‘A good but currently illegal idea you can use to keep tension in the outhaul lines is to tie the clew inhaul shockcord between the clew cringle and the block.’
  • 3archaic A ball of thread (used especially with reference to the thread supposedly used by Theseus to mark his way out of the Cretan labyrinth).

    • ‘The clever man took a clew of rope and suspended it by the door of entry so that it could serve as a guide to all who entered or came out.’
    • ‘If we observe this clew of wool from, say a kilometre distance, it is just a spot - zero dimension.’
    • ‘A clew of sugán rope or ceirtlin súgán in traditional style was made of bent grass by Peter Shevlin of Belmullet.’
  • 4

    archaic variant of clue
    • ‘To this horrible mystery there is not as yet, we believe, the slightest clew.’
    • ‘In searching for evidence of the presence of the murderer, not a clew of any kind could be found.’


[with object]clew something up" or "down
  • 1Haul up the clews of a sail to the yard or into the mast ready for furling.

    • ‘And your Arthur, I mind, was one of the four men to go aloft to clew it up.’
    • ‘It is mostly the way to man the clew-lines and the bunt-lines, ease off the lee-sheet and clew it up.’
    • ‘If you intend to set them again after the topsail is reefed, clew the sail up.’
    1. 1.1clew a sail down Lower an upper square sail by hauling down on the clew lines while slacking away on the halyard.
      • ‘Sailors clew down and tied the cargo and themselves with ropes to the ship.’
      • ‘Then, by these, brace in the yard and clew it down.’


Old English cliwen, cleowen (denoting a rounded mass, also a ball of thread), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch kluwen. All senses are also recorded for the form clue.