On the Origin of Overwhelmed

Jim-GaffiganComedian Jim Gaffigan said the following about welcoming a fourth child into his family:

“If you want to know what it’s like to have a fourth, just imagine you’re drowning… and then someone hands you a baby”

Whether or not you have four kids, I’m sure there are times in your life when you have felt overwhelmed. But what does that even mean?

Let’s break it down. Overwhelm is a compound word made up of “over” and “whelm”. Since we probably all know what “over” means, let’s focus on “whelm”. After all, you never really hear it outside of the phrases overwhelmed or underwhelmed.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “whelm” is a word with Old English roots that means to “cover over”. The same word lends itself to the words “helm” and “helmet” which are coverings for the head.

And when you tack an “over” onto a word that already means “cover over,” what you get is a connotation of something being completely covered, buried, or drowned.

So it turns out that Jim Gaffigan’s quote is pretty apt.

Here’s hoping that you aren’t overwhelmed today!



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