Posted by: episystechpubs | December 4, 2014

Editor’s Corner: Overwhelm, underwhelm, and whelm

I’m not sure if the holiday season pressure starts in October when the stores start displaying Christmas themes—or if it is after Thanksgiving when people start mauling each other in stores to get the last Elsa doll, and when party invitations and community activities pile on at breakneck speed. Whatever holiday you celebrate, whichever yule log you dance around, and whatever you do to ring in the new year, there is bound to be a little bit of the following: overwhelming, underwhelming, and whelming.

The following information is based on a lengthy Q&A from the Grammarphobia blog, but these definitions are from Merriam-Webster.


1: Overthrow, overturn, upset

2a: to cover over completely (as by a great wave): overflow and bury beneath: engulf

b: to overcome by great superiority of force or numbers: bring to ruin: destroy, overpower

c: to overpower in thought or feeling: subject to the grip of an overpowering emotion

3: to project over threateningly or dominatingly

First Known Use: 14th century (sense 1)


: to fail to impress or stimulate

First Known Use: 1948


1a dialectal, England: to turn (as a dish or vessel) upside down usually to cover something

b: to throw or place (an object) upon something so as to engulf or crush it <whelms his hat down over his eyes>

2a: to cover or engulf completely usually so as to wreck or destroy: bury, submerge <the avalanche whelms the mountain village in tons of snow>

b: to engulf or overcome in the manner of a storm or flood with usually disastrous effect <winter darkness whelms the woods>

c: to overcome in thought or feeling : overwhelm <drawn into overmastering passion, whelmed with a rush of joy and triumph — G. A. Wagner>

Middle English whelmen, perhaps alteration (influenced by helmen to helm) of whelven to turn upside down — more at helm, whelve

First Known Use: 14th century (sense 1a)

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