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

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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 One exception was the team re-signing Nicolas Batum to a five-year, $120 million deal in 2016, but Batum has underwhelmed since. Michael Mccann, SI.com, "How Michael Jordan Could Become Connected to Zion Williamson's Lawsuit," 2 Aug. 2019 Uncertain future for Sanders campaign after underwhelming Super Tuesday performance by Joseph Simonson Subscribe here to get all the latest headlines sent right to your inbox. Washington Examiner Staff, Washington Examiner, "Top Stories: March 4, 2020," 4 Mar. 2020 Despite turning in a strong sophomore season, Carr is far from a lock to get drafted in the first round, particularly after underwhelming at the combine last month. Chris Johnson, SI.com, "The Schools That Won and Lost in the NBA Draft's Biggest Decisions," 31 May 2018 Staff photographer Marc Urbano, who shuttled his family to Pittsburg in the Atlas during the December holiday season, was prepared to be underwhelmed by the three-row VW. Andrew Wendler, Car and Driver, "Our VW Atlas Nears the End of its Test: Is it Love or Hate?," 9 Mar. 2020 Even in an exhibition setting, Hutchins was underwhelmed by the Wolverines’ performances. Daniel Dash, Detroit Free Press, "Michigan softball: Five things to watch in Carol Hutchins' 36th season as coach," 30 Jan. 2020 The new Green Bay police chief was underwhelmed by the department’s equipment inventory. Michael Gehlken, Dallas News, "Mike McCarthy’s way," 19 Jan. 2020 But the team has largely underwhelmed under Patricia, which has put him and GM Bob Quinn under pressure. Brad Biggs, chicagotribune.com, "NFL power rankings for Week 13: The No. 1 Ravens and No. 2 49ers will meet on Sunday; Bears inch back into top 20," 26 Nov. 2019 Statistically, yes, Green has underwhelmed this season. Connor Letourneau, SFChronicle.com, "Warriors mailbag: Alen Smailagic’s future? Chances of a Marquese Chriss return?," 12 Jan. 2020

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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Time Traveler for underwhelm

Time Traveler

The first known use of underwhelm was in 1934

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Statistics for underwhelm

Last Updated

15 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Underwhelm.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/underwhelm. Accessed 25 May. 2020.

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More Definitions for underwhelm


How to pronounce underwhelm (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of underwhelm

somewhat humorous : to fail to impress (someone)

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More from Merriam-Webster on underwhelm

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for underwhelm

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with underwhelm

Britannica English: Translation of underwhelm for Arabic Speakers

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