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I came across the word 'ham' in an article which was used to refer to an actor. I referred the dictionary. But I was unclear of the fact that how can it be used to refer to an actor?

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There is also an idiom, "ham it up" (especially for actors). When people ham it up they deliberately exaggerate their emotions or movements. –  Vic May 2 at 6:43
If you are clumsy or incompetent at something you are also said to be "ham-handed" or "ham-fisted" which gives the impression that your hands are like large unwieldy pieces of meat, unsuited for delicate work. –  Ilythya May 2 at 11:48
Some fun and interesting notes on large hams can be found here: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LargeHam –  Eric Lippert May 2 at 13:47

3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

ham actor. origin

  • an unskilled actor who overacts
  • a theatrical performer

ham acting

when a person overacts immensely. it is generally more accepted in the theatre but criticised in film and tv. can also describe a person who is being fake. also called "hamming it"

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The word Ham to mean an "overacting inferior performer," apparently dates from about 1882 and orignates from American English. Originally the word was hamfatter, meaning "actor of low grade," and has been linked to an old minstrel show song, "The Ham-fat Man" which dates from about 1863.

Sources: https://www.wordnik.com/words/hamfatter

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Interesting. etymonline suggests the song "has nothing to do with acting, so the connection must be with the quality of acting in minstrel shows, where the song was popular". I imagine old time thespians saying "You're fit only to sing 'The Ham-Fat Man', not to play Hamlet!" –  user568458 May 2 at 12:52
@Ilythya I think this is a better answer as it explains the etymology. –  camden_kid May 2 at 15:15
@camden_kid Certainly it's more interesting but I suppose for utilitarian purposes you might prefer the accepted answer. –  emodendroket May 2 at 20:26

Interesting evolution of the term: going ham in the video gaming community usually means trying too hard at an attempt at a goal and ultimately failing. For example, someone in a competitive game might take on 3 other players in a situation where he or she really can't take on that amount of competitors, but try anyway and ultimately fail. This is going too ham.

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That phrase is an abbreviation of hard as a m*****f***** and not related to the acting term. –  Lawton May 3 at 2:34
I have never heard that before, can you back up your claim? –  Mike Manfrin May 4 at 18:17
Check, for example, Kanye West song H.A.M. or the urban dictionary entry for the origin of the slang –  Lawton May 4 at 21:33

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