Definition of underwhelm
- the movie underwhelmed most reviewers
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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.
First Known Use: 1934See Words from the same year
: to fail to impress (someone)
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