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[oh-ver-hwelm, -welm]
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verb (used with object)
  1. to overcome completely in mind or feeling: overwhelmed by remorse.
  2. to overpower or overcome, especially with superior forces; destroy; crush: Roman troops were overwhelmed by barbarians.
  3. to cover or bury beneath a mass of something, as floodwaters, debris, or an avalanche; submerge: Lava from erupting Vesuvius overwhelmed the city of Pompeii.
  4. to load, heap, treat, or address with an overpowering or excessive amount of anything: a child overwhelmed with presents; to overwhelm someone with questions.
  5. to overthrow.
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Origin of overwhelm

Middle English word dating back to 1300–50; see origin at over-, whelm
Related formsun·o·ver·whelmed, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for overwhelmed


verb (tr)
  1. to overpower the thoughts, emotions, or senses of
  2. to overcome with irresistible force
  3. to overcome, as with a profusion or concentration of something
  4. to cover over or bury completely
  5. to weigh or rest upon overpoweringly
  6. archaic to overturn
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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for overwhelmed


mid-15c., past participle adjective from overwhelm.

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early 14c., "to turn upside down, to overthrow," from over- + Middle English whelmen "to turn upside down" (see whelm). Meaning "to submerge completely" is mid-15c. Perhaps the connecting notion is a boat, etc., washed over, and overset, by a big wave. Figurative sense of "to bring to ruin" is attested from 1520s. Related: Overwhelmed; overwhelming; overwhelmingly.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper