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Word Curio

August 7, 2020

Word of the Day: Overwhelm

1 CQ

Word of the Day : October 25, 2017

overwhelm \oh-ver-WELM\ verb


1 : upset, overthrow

2 a : to cover over completely : submerge

b : to overcome by superior force or numbers

c : to overpower in thought or feeling


"The ships … [are] small enough to maneuver into tricky anchorages and light enough on passengers to not overwhelm the wildlife or fragile communities they access." — Sophy Roberts, Traveler, September 2017

"Studies have shown that people can feel empathy, attachment, and other emotions toward robots that exhibit signs of life.… When [the Mars rover] Curiosity serenaded itself with a robotic version of 'Happy Birthday' a few years ago—a very human act—some people were in tears, overwhelmed by sympathy for a machine…." — Marina Koren, The Atlantic, 15 Sept. 2017

Did You Know?

You could say that the introduction of overwhelm to the English language was a bit redundant. The word, which originally meant "to overturn or upset," was formed in Middle English by combining the prefix over- with the verb whelmen, which also meant "to overturn." Whelmen has survived in English as whelm, a verb which is largely synonymous with overwhelm. Since their appearance in the 14th century, however, overwhelm has won over English speakers who have come to largely prefer it to whelm, despite the latter's brevity. Perhaps the emphatic redundancy of overwhelm makes it seem like the more fitting word for describing the experience of being overcome by powerful forces or feelings.

Aired October 25, 2017

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