Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Overwhelm

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is overwhelm. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Overwhelm typically means “to overpower in thought or feeling” or “to overcome by superior force or numbers.” It can also mean “to submerge; to cover over completely” or “to overturn or upset.”

// The colorful sights, loud music, and large crowds overwhelmed her senses.

OVERWHELM in Context

“Saturday was the first day for reservations, with seating limited so as not to overwhelm the new staff and to avoid long wait times for orders.” — Cheryl V. Jackson, The Indianapolis Star, 17 Apr. 2022

Did You Know?

Let’s face it: life can get overwhelming. A person might be overwhelmed by a sensory experience or emotion; a city might be overwhelmed by an influx of tourists. Things can underwhelm, too: a bland meal, a bare wall, a lackluster playlist. But how often does an experience just, well, whelm you? The answer, unassumingly, is just as often as one overwhelms you—the two verbs are in fact largely synonymous. Both come from Middle English whelmen, meaning “to overturn,” and overwhelm has always been more popular, perhaps because the emphatic redundancy of overwhelm makes it seem more apt for describing reactions to powerful forces or feelings.

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