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Word for Wednesday: Clue

The Spellzone dictionary defines the word clue as 'evidence that helps solve a problem'. Indeed, your first association with the word is possibly in the context of playing games.

Here is clue used in some example sentences: 

  • He begged the quizmaster for a clue.
  • The detective hoped to find a clue that would unlock the case. 
  • She hoped a genetic test would give her a clue about her ancestry. 

Clue is a spelling variant of the word ‘clew’ which also means ‘a ball of thread’.

If you’re wondering what a ball of string has in common with a hint, here’s a clue: the answer lies in Greek mythology.

In the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, Ariadne gives Theseus a ball of thread (or clew) to help him find his way out a labyrinth. As he enters the maze, Theseus unravels the clew and then, after he has decapitated the Minotaur, he follows the thread to find his way out. 

Thus clew, and later clue, came to be understood metaphorically as something you could follow to find something out.

03 Jul 2019
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Teacher, Australia