From Middle English whelmen, whelm, whelme (“to turn over, capsize; to invert, turn upside down”), 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”), 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.
- (Received Pronunciation) enPR: whĕlm, IPA(key): /ʍɛlm/
- (General American) enPR: wĕlm, IPA(key): /wɛlm/
Audio (GA) (file)
- Rhymes: -ɛlm
- (transitive) To bury, to cover; to engulf, to submerge.
- c. 1597, William Shakespeare, “The Merry VViues of VVindsor”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (First Folio), London: Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act II, scene ii], page 46, column 1:
- Giue fire: ſhe is my prize, or Ocean whelme them all.
- , [John] Gay, “Book II. Of Walking the Streets by Day.”, in Trivia: Or, The Art of Walking the Streets of London, London: Printed for Bernard Lintott, […], OCLC 13598122, page 46:
- Still let me walk; for oft' the ſudden Gale / Ruffles the Tide, and ſhifts the dang'rous Sail, / Then ſhall the Paſſenger, too late, deplore / The whelming Billow, and the faithleſs Oar; […]
- 1803, Erasmus Darwin, “Canto I. Production of Life.”, in The Temple of Nature; or, The Origin of Society: A Poem, with Philosophical Notes, London: Printed for J. Johnson, […], by T[homas] Bensley, […], OCLC 1015453761, section II, lines 113–116, page 11:
- Deep-whelm'd beneath, in vast sepulchral caves, / Oblivion dwells amid unlabell'd graves; / The storied tomb, the laurell'd bust o'erturns, / And shakes their ashes from the mould'ring urns.
- (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.
- (transitive, obsolete) To ruin or destroy.
- (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.
Today, the verb overwhelm is much more common than whelm.
- whammel (possibly related)
whelm (plural whelms)
- ^ “whelmen, v.” in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 2 December 2018.
- ^ “whelve, v.” in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 2 December 2018.
- ^ “whelm, n.”, in OED Online , Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1923; “whelm, v.”, in OED Online , Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1923.