un·​der·​whelm | \ ˌən-dər-ˈhwelm How to pronounce underwhelm (audio) , -ˈwelm\
underwhelmed; underwhelming; underwhelms

Definition of underwhelm

transitive verb

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

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Did You Know?

Overwhelm and its rare synonym "whelm" have both been around since the 14th century, but "underwhelm" first appeared in print in 1949. Both "overwhelm" and "whelm" are derived from the Middle English "whelmen," which is perhaps an alteration of "whelmen" ("to turn over" or "to cover up"). "Underwhelm" is fashioned after "overwhelm" and probably originated as a playful alteration intended as a mildly humorous way of describing something 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

Outside of John Collins, the Hawks' front line options are underwhelming: Dewayne Dedmon will soon be a free agent, and Alex Len, who enjoyed a bit of a breakthrough last season, still isn't anything to write home about. Ben Golliver, courant.com, "2019 NBA mock draft: How will Pelicans build around Zion Williamson?," 18 June 2019 That may underwhelm you, but the blame mostly lies with G-Sync. Gordon Mah Ung, PCWorld, "Hands on with HP's Omen X 2S 15: The world's first dual-screen gaming laptop," 14 May 2019 Woodward had a list of candidates that would completely underwhelm a fan base desperate for a national title contender. Andy Staples, SI.com, "The Message Behind the Money: How Texas A&M Landed Jimbo Fisher," 28 June 2018 Should Venom underwhelm, its not difficult to see Sony reacting in a similar way and going back to the drawing board once again. Alex Abad-santos, Vox, "Venom, Spider-Man’s symbiote supervillain, explained," 3 Oct. 2018 However, some worried that number would underwhelm investors, according to people briefed on the private discussions, and the bank elected not to cite a number. Jenny Strasburg, WSJ, "Deutsche Bank Considers Plans for 10,000 Job Cuts," 23 May 2018 Bradberry underwhelmed at times in his second season, but also was able to show flashes of his substantial potential. Jourdan Rodrigue, charlotteobserver, "Most exciting position battle at Panthers' 2018 training camp fueled by competition," 11 July 2018 The bottom line is that you should be prepared for a period of rain, possibly heavy, Saturday afternoon and night, but don’t be totally shocked if amounts are underwhelming in the metro area and to the east. Jason Samenow, Washington Post, "Saturday afternoon and night likely to be focus of weekend rain, and it could be heavy," 4 May 2018 Spain has underwhelmed at this tournament so far and progressed from the group stage with one victory and two draws. Joshua Robinson, WSJ, "It’s Time for Some Heavyweight Knockouts in the World Cup," 28 June 2018

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.

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First Known Use of underwhelm

1934, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for underwhelm

under + overwhelm

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Last Updated

27 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for underwhelm

The first known use of underwhelm was in 1934

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More Definitions for underwhelm



English Language Learners Definition of underwhelm

somewhat humorous : to fail to impress (someone)

More from Merriam-Webster on underwhelm

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with underwhelm

Britannica English: Translation of underwhelm for Arabic Speakers

Comments on underwhelm

What made you want to look up underwhelm? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to form ideas or theories about something

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