Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
October 30th, 2015
Episode 365 of 900 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 30, 2015 is: underwhelm \un-der-WELM\ verb : to fail to impress or stimulate Examples: The figure skater's lackluster performance underwhelmed the judges. "Taking place as they are during vacation season, these first debates are almost guaranteed to underwhelm." Jack Shafer, Politico.com, 5 Aug. 2015 Did you know? Overwhelm and its rare synonym whelm have both been around since the 14th century, but underwhelm first appeared in print in 1948. Both overwhelm and whelm are derived from the Middle English whelmen, which is perhaps an alteration of whelven ("to turn over" or "to cover up"). And underwhelm is a playful overturning of overwhelm well suited for describing the 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.