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From the past participle of nim (to take). Compare German benommen (dazed, numb). The final ⟨b⟩ is a later addition to the spelling; it was never pronounced, and did not appear in the original word.


  • enPR: nŭm, IPA(key): /nʌm/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ʌm


numb (comparative number, superlative numbest)

  1. Physically unable to feel, not having the power of sensation.
    fingers numb with cold
    legs numb from kneeling
    Synonyms: deadened, insensible
  2. Emotionally unable to feel or respond in a normal way.
    numb with shock; numb with boredom
    • 1915, Nellie McClung, In Times Like These, Toronto: McLeod & Allen, Chapter 2,[1]
      [] when we know that hundreds are rendered homeless every day, and countless thousands are killed and wounded, men and boys mowed down like a field of grain, and with as little compunction, we grow a little bit numb to human misery.
    • 1966, Truman Capote, In Cold Blood, New York: Modern Library, 1992, Part One, p. 77,[2]
      [] seeing the dog—somehow that made me feel again. I’d been too dazed, too numb, to feel the full viciousness of it.
    • 2016, Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time, Random House Canada, Part Three,[3]
      [] he submitted [] as a traitor, his mind numb with vodka, submits to a firing squad.
    Synonym: stunned
  3. (obsolete) Causing numbness.


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numb (third-person singular simple present numbs, present participle numbing, simple past and past participle numbed)

  1. (transitive) To cause to become numb (physically or emotionally).
    The dentist gave me novocaine to numb my tooth before drilling, thank goodness.
    When I first heard the news, I was numbed by the shock.
    • 2020 April 22, “Letters: Open Access: Not easy for laptops”, in Rail, page 31:
      But her main concern is the hard seating that numbs the nether regions.
    Synonym: benumb
  2. (transitive) To cause (a feeling) to be less intense.
    He turned to alcohol to numb his pain.
    • 1861, Elizabeth Gaskell, “The Grey Woman” in The Grey Woman and Other Tales, London: Smith, Elder & Co.,[4]
      [I was] thankful for the pain, which helped to numb my terror.
    Synonym: dull
  3. (transitive) To cause (the mind, faculties, etc.) to be less acute.
    • 1912, Saki, “The Hounds of Fate” in The Chronicles of Clovis, London: John Lane, p. 219,[5]
      [] hunger, fatigue, and despairing hopelessness had numbed his brain []
    • 1927, Hugh Lofting, Doctor Dolittle’s Garden, Part Four, Chapter 6,[6]
      The noise, the rush of air past our ears, was positively terrific. It actually seemed to numb the senses and make it almost impossible to take in impressions at all.
    • 2004, Cory Doctorow, Eastern Standard Tribe, Chapter 13,[7]
      [The sofa] exhaled a breath of trapped ancient farts, barf-smell, and antiseptic, the parfum de asylum that gradually numbed my nose to all other scents on the ward.
    Synonym: dull
  4. (intransitive) To become numb (especially physically).
    • 1918, Lewis R. Freeman, Many Fronts, London: John Murray, “Wonders of the Teleferica,” p. 270,[8]
      [] after fumbling with numbing fingers for ten or fifteen minutes, he waved his hand with a gesture of despair []
    • 1919, Arthur Murray Chisholm, The Land of Strong Men, New York: H.K. Fly, Chapter 18,[9]
      [] once more his feet began to numb. Again he got down and stamped the circulation going, but as soon as he began to ride again they numbed.

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