Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for February 16, 2021 is:

underwhelm • un-der-WELM  • verb

: to fail to impress or stimulate


“Nesmith’s short stints continue to underwhelm. During one four-minute stretch in the fourth quarter, he missed a 3-pointer by a wide margin and committed three fouls.” — Adam Himmelsbach, The Boston Globe, 4 Jan. 2021

“He underwhelmed in 2019, leveling out after a dynamic start in Detroit, which earned him All-Star honors. But Greene bounced back in 2020, posting a 2.60 ERA with a 21:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 28 games.” — Gabriel Burns, The Atlanta (Georgia) Journal-Constitution, 6 Jan. 2021

Did you know?

Overwhelm and its rare synonym whelm have both been around since the Middle Ages, but underwhelm is a 20th-century coinage. 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”). 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.

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