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[oh-ver-hwelm, -welm] /ˌoʊ vərˈʰwɛlm, -ˈwɛlm/
verb (used with object)
to overcome completely in mind or feeling:
overwhelmed by remorse.
to overpower or overcome, especially with superior forces; destroy; crush:
Roman troops were overwhelmed by barbarians.
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.
to load, heap, treat, or address with an overpowering or excessive amount of anything:
a child overwhelmed with presents; to overwhelm someone with questions.
to overthrow.
Origin of overwhelm
1300-50; Middle English; see over-, whelm
Related forms
unoverwhelmed, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for overwhelm
  • All the design claims may overwhelm the potential buyer.
  • But there are certain anti-stimuli that overwhelm even my well-honed capacity for fascination.
  • The unfree nations will grow so quickly that they will overwhelm free nations with their economic might.
  • With no natural enemies, alien species can overwhelm their adopted homes.
  • When daydreaming turns addictive and compulsive, it can overwhelm normal functioning, impeding relationships and work.
  • Use them sparingly, to accentuate the plants rather than overwhelm them.
  • But the startup is also careful not to overwhelm customers with foreboding information.
  • When a college's social reputation threatens to overwhelm its academic stature, the fraternity house stands.
  • The signal from the largest tends to overwhelm the others.
  • Potentially dangerous mold blooms can quickly overwhelm water-soaked structures.
British Dictionary definitions for overwhelm


verb (transitive)
to overpower the thoughts, emotions, or senses of
to overcome with irresistible force
to overcome, as with a profusion or concentration of something
to cover over or bury completely
to weigh or rest upon overpoweringly
(archaic) to overturn
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
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Word Origin and History for overwhelm

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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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