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From Middle English whelmen (to turn over, capsize; make an arch cover; experience a reversal), perhaps from Old English *hwealmnian for *hwealfnian, from Old English hwealf (arched, concave, vaulted; an arched or vaulted ceiling), akin to Middle English whelven (to cover over, bury; invert; bring to ruin, to move by rolling), akin to Old English ahwelfan, ahwylfan (to cast down, cover over), Old English helmian (to cover), akin to Old Saxon bihwelvian, Dutch welven (to arch) German wölben, Old High German welben, Icelandic hvelfa (to overturn; compare), Ancient Greek κόλπος (kólpos, bosom, hollow, gulf).


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Particularly: "UK"


whelm (third-person singular simple present whelms, present participle whelming, simple past and past participle whelmed)

  1. To cover; to submerge; to engulf; to bury.
  2. To overcome with emotion.
    • 1903, John Henry Newman, Hymn for Vespers, Sunday, Verses on Various Occasions, 1989, Prayers, Verses, and Devotions, page 638,
      Hear, lest the whelming weight of crime / Wreck us with life in view;
  3. (obsolete) To throw (something) over a thing so as to cover it.
    • 1708, John Mortimer, The Whole Art of Husbandry, 2nd Edition, page 253,
      Balls made of horse-dung and laid in a room will do the same if they are new made; by which means you may whelm some things over them and keep them there.

Usage notes[edit]

Today, the verbs overwhelm and underwhelm are much more common than "whelm".

Derived terms[edit]



whelm (plural whelms)

  1. a surge
    "the whelm of the tide"


Part or all of this entry has been imported from the 1913 edition of Webster’s Dictionary, which is now free of copyright and hence in the public domain. The imported definitions may be significantly out of date, and any more recent senses may be completely missing.
(See the entry for whelm in
Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913.)