un·​der·​whelm | \ ˌən-dər-ˈ(h)welm How to pronounce underwhelm (audio) \
underwhelmed; underwhelming; underwhelms

Definition of underwhelm

transitive verb

: to fail to impress or stimulate the movie underwhelmed most reviewers

Did you know?

Overwhelm and its rare synonym whelm have both been around since the Middle Ages, but underwhelm is a 20th-century coinage. Both overwhelm and whelm are derived from the Middle English whelmen, which is perhaps an alteration of whelven ("to turn over" or "to cover up"). Underwhelm is a playful overturning of overwhelm well suited for describing the unimpressive. More than one person claims the distinction of having invented underwhelm; several sources attribute it to the playwright George S. Kaufman, but sports columnist Red Smith is quoted as believing he coined the word himself, and still other sources cite other potential creators. Chances are that the word was in fact coined by more than one inventive writer.

Examples of underwhelm in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web While spectacle food tends to underwhelm in every aspect but size, these cinnamon rolls are both comically excessive and downright tasty. Paul Stephen, San Antonio Express-News, 4 Mar. 2022 Village Roadshow alleged the non-industry practice caused Matrix Resurrections, which was slated to be released in 2022 but was moved up by Warner Bros, to underwhelm at the box office. Winston Cho, The Hollywood Reporter, 7 Feb. 2022 With Utah missing its leading scorer, and Phoenix missing two starters and a key rotation piece, this game has a strong chance to underwhelm in the boxscore. Jeremy Cluff, The Arizona Republic, 24 Jan. 2022 The safest tentpoles would still play about on par with pre-Covid expectations, especially in North America, while anything comparatively dicey or uncertain would underwhelm or outright bomb. Scott Mendelson, Forbes, 3 Jan. 2022 The three-time gold medalist continued to underwhelm in the 2021-22 season and is down to one remaining qualifier, Jan. 6-8 at Mammoth Mountain. Mark Zeigler, San Diego Union-Tribune, 19 Dec. 2021 The move appeared to underwhelm oil traders, who had been expecting President Biden to announce a larger release from America’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which is the biggest in the world with 620 million barrels. New York Times, 23 Nov. 2021 With the wrong strategies, digital content can underwhelm. John Hall, Forbes, 24 Oct. 2021 As an example, Zoho's support (which is mostly out of India) never fails to underwhelm me and my clients. Gene Marks, Forbes, 5 July 2021 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'underwhelm.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of underwhelm

1934, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for underwhelm

under + overwhelm

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The first known use of underwhelm was in 1934

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Cite this Entry

“Underwhelm.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/underwhelm. Accessed 17 May. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on underwhelm

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for underwhelm

Britannica English: Translation of underwhelm for Arabic Speakers


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