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 Hopkins was underwhelming in his UAB debut as the Blazers (6-3, 3-2) suffered a 37-2 loss by Southern Miss at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Evan Dudley, al, "1st-time starting QB Dylan Hopkins struggles in loss to Southern Miss," 10 Nov. 2019 Ohio State has found success in going into states where the Power Five schools are underwhelming on the football field and stealing their impact players. Stephen Means, cleveland, "Is Ohio State football’s recruiting taking advantage of Tennessee’s shortcomings on the field?," 10 Oct. 2019 At the time, Oregon’s 21-6 victory over Stanford last month felt underwhelming too. oregonlive, "A victory without style points is still a victory. The Oregon Ducks are 2-0 in the Pac-12: Issues & Answers," 6 Oct. 2019 But the 16-year-old who sparked the global movement said she was underwhelmed by the United States government’s approach to climate change. Washington Post, "Q&A: Climate activist Greta Thunberg on global strikes," 20 Sep. 2019 But the 16-year-old who sparked the global movement said she was underwhelmed by the United States government’s approach to climate change. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Q&A: Climate activist Greta Thunberg on global strikes," 20 Sep. 2019 The international break arrived in timely fashion for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, whose Manchester United side have underwhelmed at the start of the Premier League season. SI.com, "Manchester United: The XI That Should Start Against Leicester," 13 Sep. 2019 The plan, still greeted with widespread skepticism, embodies the infrastructure-heavy, nation-building aspirations of the Jokowi era in a country that perpetually underwhelms on the world stage despite its size and wealth of resources. David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, "Endangered orangutans could be the biggest losers as Indonesia builds a new capital," 13 Sep. 2019 Another person, however, said Volkswagen was underwhelmed by Aurora’s technology. Patrick Mcgee, latimes.com, "VW dumps self-driving start-up Aurora and turns to Ford’s Argo AI," 11 June 2019

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

28 Nov 2019

Cite this Entry

“Underwhelm.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/underwhelm?pronunciation&lang=en_us&dir=u&file=underw05. Accessed 8 December 2019.

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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)

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 constrict the range or activity of

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