The Word “Whelm”

Margie Wakeman Wells General Leave a Comment

I get a word every day from Merriam-Webster — it is free. You might want to sign up for it.

I just found this word intriguing — “whelm.” I am sure I have never used the word without a prefix.

Here are the three definitions given:

  1. to turn (something, such as a dish or vessel) upside down usually to cover something : to cover or engulf completely with usually disastrous effect
  2. to overcome in thought or feeling (overwhelm)
  3. to pass or go over something so as to bury or submerge it

And here is the explanation:

In the film comedy Ten Things I Hate About You (1999), the character Chastity Church asks, “I know you can be underwhelmed and you can be overwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?” The answer, Chastity, is yes. Contemporary writers sometimes use whelm to denote a middle stage between underwhelm and overwhelm. But that’s not how whelm has traditionally been used. Whelm and overwhelm have been with us since Middle English (when they were whelmen and overwhelmen), and throughout the years their meanings have largely overlapped. Both words early on meant “to overturn,” for example, and both have also come to mean “to overpower in thought or feeling.” After folks started using a third word, underwhelmed, for “unimpressed,” whelmed began popping up with the meaning “moderately impressed.”

So can we really say, “I was whelmed by it”? Wow!

Happy punctuating!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *