Open main menu




From Middle English whelmen, whelm, whelme (to turn over, capsize; to invert, turn upside down),[1] perhaps from Old English *hwealmnian, a variant of *hwealfnian, from hwealf (arched, concave, vaulted; an arched or vaulted ceiling), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *kʷelp- (to curve). The English word is cognate with Ancient Greek κόλπος (kólpos, bosom, hollow, gulf), Dutch welven (to arch), Old English ahwelfan, ahwylfan (to cast down, cover over), helmian (to cover), Middle English whelven (to bury, cover over; to invert; to move by rolling),[2] Old High German welben (modern German wölben (to bend, curve; to arch)), Old Norse hvelfa (modern Icelandic hvelfa (to overturn)), Old Saxon bihwelvian (to cover; to hide).

The noun is derived from the verb.[3]


  This entry needs audio files. If you have a microphone, please record some and upload them. (For audio required quickly, visit WT:APR.)
Particularly: "UK"


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

  1. (transitive) To bury, to cover; to engulf, to submerge.
    Synonym: overwhelm
    Antonym: unwhelm
  2. (transitive, obsolete) To throw (something) over a thing so as to cover it.
    • 1708, J[ohn] Mortimer, “Of Kites, Hawks, &c.”, in The Whole Art of Husbandry; or, The Way of Managing and Improving of Land. [], 2nd corrected edition, London: Printed by J. H. for H. Mortlock [], and J. Robinson [], OCLC 13320837, book VII, pages 252–253:
      Gnats and Flies are very troubleſome in Houſes [] Balls made of Horſe-dung and laid in a Room will do the ſame [attract gnats and flies] if they are new made; by which means you may whelm ſome things over them and keep them there.
  3. (transitive, obsolete) To ruin or destroy.
  4. (intransitive) To overcome with emotion; to overwhelm.
    • 1839, [John Henry Newman]; [Frederick Parry Hodges, compiler], “Hymn 71”, in A Selection of Psalms and Hymns as Chaunted and Sung in the Parish Church of Lyme Regis, Dorset, Lyme [Regis], Dorset: Printed, published, and sold only by Daniel Dunster, [], OCLC 1062955649, page 175:
      Hear Thou our plaint, when light is gone / And lawlessness and strife prevail. / Hear, lest the whelming weight of crime / Wreck us with life in view; / Lest thoughts and schemes of sense and time / Earn us a sinner's due.

Usage notesEdit

Today, the verb overwhelm is much more common than whelm.

Derived termsEdit

Terms derived from whelm (verb)

Related termsEdit



whelm (plural whelms)

  1. (poetic) A surge of water.
    the whelm of the tide


  1. ^ whelmen, v.” in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 2 December 2018.
  2. ^ whelve, v.” in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 2 December 2018.
  3. ^ whelm, n.”, in OED Online  , Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1923; “whelm, v.”, in OED Online  , Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1923.