But when the Piper stepped ashore and not so much as a single squeak was to be heard, the Mayor and the Council, and the town-folk generally, began to hum and to ha and to shake their heads.

This is from an English (or Scottish) fairly tale "The Pied Piper". What's the meaning of "to ha"? could you teach me?

  • Compare "hem and haw".
    – TimR
    Aug 16, 2017 at 13:10
  • Thank you for your comment. Is "hum and ha" old form of ""hem and haw"? Aug 16, 2017 at 13:30
  • It has been around since at least the 15th century ("by humys and by hays") and is used in regional dialects as a variant of hem and haw. These vocalizations express a hesitancy to act or a reluctance to say something outright.
    – TimR
    Aug 16, 2017 at 13:45
  • Hum/hem and ha/haw are old ways of representing what contemporary US writers usually spell ‹um› and ‹uh› and contemporary British writers usually spell ‹er› and ‹erm›. Aug 16, 2017 at 14:33
  • it's not to ha: it's to hum and ha, together. Same as: to hem and haw. Usually only one to is enough. I disagree with the comments about writers. To hem and haw and it's variants are verbs to express a number of interjections that point to not wanting to state something straight out.
    – Lambie
    Aug 16, 2017 at 14:34

1 Answer 1


hum and ha, hem and haw are vocalizations attested as early as the 15th century ("by humys and by hays", 1469, hum, MED); they express a hesitancy to act or a reluctance to say something outright.


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