1 : to cover or engulf completely with usually disastrous effect
2 : to overcome in thought or feeling : overwhelm
3 : to pass or go over something so as to bury or submerge it
The avalanche whelmed everything in its path.
"Nevertheless, much will remain whelmed in mystery. Messrs Cameron and Clegg both promised before the general election that the new regime would cover Network Rail, an oddly constituted body laden with publicly backed debt that runs Britain's railway tracks." - From an article in The Economist, January 22, 2011
Did You Know?
"It is not overwhelming and it is not underwhelming. You leave the production feeling merely whelmed." Thus wrote Michael Phillips in the Los Angeles Times, February 6, 2001. Contemporary writers like Philips sometimes use "whelm" to denote a middle stage between "underwhelm" and "overwhelm." But that's not how "whelm" has traditionally been used. "Whelm" and "overwhelm" have been with us since Middle English (when they were "whelmen" and "overwhelmen"), and throughout the years their meanings have largely overlapped. Both words early on meant "to overturn," for example, and both have also come to mean "to overpower in thought or feeling." Around 1950, however, folks started using a third word, "underwhelmed," for "unimpressed," and lately "whelmed" has been popping up with the meaning "moderately impressed."
Test Your Memory
What word completes this sentence from a former Word of the Day piece: "The student's __________ facial expression suggested a lack of comprehension"? The answer is ...