1. The thigh of the hind leg of certain animals, especially a hog.
2. A cut of meat from the thigh of a hog, often cured by salting or smoking.
3. The back of the knee.
4. The back of the thigh.
5. hams The buttocks.
6. A performer who overacts or exaggerates.
7. A licensed amateur radio operator.
v. hammed, ham·ming, hams
To exaggerate or overdo a dramatic role; overact.
To exaggerate or overdo (a dramatic role, for example).
ham it up
To act or perform in an exaggerated, often intentionally broadly humorous or ridiculous style.
[Middle English hamme, from Old English hamm. Noun, sense 6, from obsolete slang hamfatter, a poor or amateurish actor, from the song "The Ham-Fat Man" (1863), considered typical of minstrel shows and their low standards of performance and depicting a stereotyped vision of slave life in the American South (including a slave who likes gravy made from ham fat). Noun, sense 7, short for ham operator, originally applied in the 1800s to telegraphers with poor skills, from HAM-FISTED and HAM-HANDED.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.