Clue used to be spelled “clew”. This was due to clew meaning “a ball of twine” which was symbolic of following the string through a maze and helping find “the way” or “an answer”.

‘Clue’ or ‘Clew’?

A clew was originally a ball of twine, and the idea of following a string through a maze led to the more metaphorical idea of a “clew” being something that helps you find your way or find an answer. It started being spelled “clue” in the 1600s. In modern times, the “clew” spelling has been declining since around 1900s.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, as you can imagine, and decided I would start reading one of my favorite detective series from the very start: the incomparable Ellery Queen.

Ellery Queen was the author as well as the main character of more than 30 mystery novels. Set in New York City in the late 1920s and 1930s, Ellery helps his police inspector father, Richard Queen, solve difficult and complex murders. I’ve… Continue Reading (5 minute read)

5 thoughts on “Clue used to be spelled “clew”. This was due to clew meaning “a ball of twine” which was symbolic of following the string through a maze and helping find “the way” or “an answer”.”

  1. cammcken

    So like Theseus and the Labyrinth?

  2. marmorset

    It’s from the Minotaur myth. The hero Theseus is given a *clew*, or ball of yarn, by Ariadne so he can find his way out of the labyrinth. Ariadne was the half-sister of the Minotaur, whose real name was Asterion. “Minotaur” means “the bull of Minos,” Minos being the bull’s stepfather.

    King Minos was supposed to sacrifice a rare white bull to Poseidon, but instead kept that bull and sacrificed a lesser one to the god. Poseidon was furious and cursed Minos’ wife, Pasiphaë, causing her to have a sexual desire for the first bull.

    Pasiphaë calls upon Daedalus, the king’s engineer, to build a life-like fake cow for her. She hides inside the cow and soon mounted and impregnated by the rare bull. She gives birth to a son, who is given the name Asterion, which means star (and is related to our word asteroid, which means “star like”).

    The boy is monstrous, but is nursed by his mother at first. Later on he begins killing and eating people, and his stepfather, King Minos, has Daedalus construct a labyrinth to contain the creature. Minos then imprisons Daedalus in a tower to punish him for the cow suit and to keep the secret of the labyrinth. Daedalus then builds wings, and with his son, Icarus, tries to fly out of the tower and off the island where he’s being kept. Icarus flies too high and the sun melts the wax holding the wings together. He crashes into the sea and drowns. Icarus’ body is retrieved and buried on a nearby island, which is still called Icaria.

    One of Minos’ other sons was killed by the people of Athens, so he insists they send him captives every few years as sacrifices to the Minotaur. Athen’s prince Theseus is determined to kill the monster and stop providing Minos with sacrificial young men and women. His father, King Aegeus is against it and urges him not to go. Theseus tells his dad that although he’s traveling on the black-sailed ship of sacrifices, he’ll return flying a white sail to show that he was victorious.

    Unfortunately, in his rush to escape the labyrinth and run off with Minos’ daughter, Theseus forgets to change the sails and heads home. King Aegeus, seeing the black sails on the horizon and fearing his son is dead, drowns himself into the ocean, forevermore called the “Aegean Sea” in his honor.

  3. bobbyllama

    yeah but did the duck eat the yeast or not?!

  4. leaky_eddie

    The clew is also the corner of a sail. I haven’t a clue how that adds to conversation though.

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