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 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 This is essentially the same team that underwhelmed the NFL after starting last season as a preseason favorite. John Shipley, Twin Cities, "John Shipley: Vikings have a lot to prove after going bust in 2018," 4 Sep. 2019 Kevin Knox, a young star who underwhelmed last year and has much to prove, will also be suiting up. Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY, "Zion Williamson headlines another fascinating year at NBA summer league in Las Vegas," 5 July 2019 Though the actual results — the team went 1-2 and was outscored 12-10 during the Rookie Faceoff Tournament hosted by the Ducks — might have underwhelmed, Stothers walked away impressed with several promising pieces to the franchise’s future. Jack Harris, Los Angeles Times, "Kings prospects show plenty of promise at rookie tournament," 11 Sep. 2019 Mustafi has generally underwhelmed since arriving in north London for £35m in 2016 and needs a transfer to reignite his career. SI.com, "7 Deals That Could Happen Before the End of the European Transfer Window," 28 Aug. 2019 What's more, the settlements eventually reached at the end of the mediation process can often underwhelm, even before accounting for the sizable chunk of damages used to pay lawyers' fees. Rey Mashayekhi, Fortune, "For Tech Companies Going Public, An Unwanted Side Effect: IPO-Related Lawsuits," 27 Aug. 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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Statistics for underwhelm

Last Updated

31 Oct 2019

Time Traveler for underwhelm

The first known use of underwhelm was in 1934

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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

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