Clue we know as “anything that guides or directs.” We generally think of it as something that helps us solve a mystery or answer a question. But did you know that clue actually relates directly back to an Ancient Greek myth?

That’s right! In the myths of Theseus, one involves him being trapped in the dreaded Labyrinth. Ariadne gives him a ball of yarn to help him find his way out again–he could unwind it as he went and thereby know where he’d already been or retrace his steps as necessary.

What’s the connection, then, to our modern English word? Pretty simple. Clue (originally spelled clew) was the Middle English word for “a ball of yarn or thread.” Borrowed from the German, it’s been in English since the mid-1300s in its original yarn meaning, and had taken on its metaphorical one–but specifically in regard to labyrinths–by 1590. It wasn’t until the 1620s that people began using it for “that which points the way” apart from labyrinths.

The phrase “[that person] hasn’t got a clue” is first recorded in 1948, and the board game (which my kids still love to play today!) was launched in England in 1949 with the name Cluedo.

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