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

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 come from the Middle English whelmen, meaning "to turn over" or "to cover up." Underwhelm is a playful overturning of overwhelm that is well suited for contexts in which something fails to excite. As is often the case with younger words, there is a certain amount of misinformation regarding where underwhelm came from. We have seen reports that the playwright George S. Kaufman coined it, and also that the famed sportswriter Red Smith claimed to have used it first. Neither of these is likely to be accurate, for the simple fact that there is evidence that underwhelming was used, albeit as an adjective, before either of these men was born.

Examples of underwhelm in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Left guard Brady Christensen, who missed all but one game last season, could be an option, even if that might underwhelm onlookers. Mike Kaye, Charlotte Observer, 12 Feb. 2024 The Portland Thorns shared an update on their forthcoming sale, the Portland Timbers advanced in Leagues Cup, and the USWNT continues to underwhelm on the World Cup stage. oregonlive, 2 Aug. 2023 First came 14 minutes of work-in-progress footage from Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the long-gestating sequel to 2018’s Oscar-winning Best Animated Feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which seemed to underwhelm the 4,000-something CinemaCon audience. Chris Lee, Vulture, 25 Apr. 2023 Those numbers may underwhelm, as even a single physical qubit has a lower error rate. Byadrian Cho, science.org, 22 Feb. 2023 The gift might underwhelm someone who is used to the finer things in life and wants some luxury in their holidays. Katie Melynn, Peoplemag, 2 Dec. 2022 And Beverley, the defensive stopper the team traded for this summer, couldn’t help the team get stops down the stretch while continuing to underwhelm offensively. Dan Woike, Los Angeles Times, 12 Nov. 2022 Head coach Steve Kerr made the adjustments following a winless five-game trip last week on which Golden State’s second unit continued to underwhelm. C.j. Holmes, San Francisco Chronicle, 7 Nov. 2022 Considering the show is a little more abstract than other series, perhaps Disney is concerned the pilot would underwhelm or leave people confused, so teed up a second one for fans to play immediately after. Julia Alexander, The Verge, 8 Jan. 2021

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'underwhelm.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


under + overwhelm

First Known Use

1934, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of underwhelm was in 1934


Dictionary Entries Near underwhelm

Cite this Entry

“Underwhelm.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/underwhelm. Accessed 25 May. 2024.

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