There are a million reasons to love the film 10 Things I Hate About You, but one of my favorite parts involves an amusing literary question that is never actually answered in the film. I will attempt to answer that now…
“I know you can be overwhelmed and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?”
Great question! The answer? Yes, you can just be whelmed. Whelm (back then whelme) was first used around the mid-1200s. It was derived from the Old English word whelve —to turn upside-down. You may be thinking well, that doesn’t make much sense, but as this word evolved, so did its definition. Today, the word whelm has two meanings—to submerge and to overcome in thought or feeling. Because these two uses are so distinct, the English language morphed whelm into overwhelm in the 1400s. Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t until the 1950s that its antithesis, underwhelm, was created.
I know this has been weighing heavily on your mind since this movie’s premiere in 1999. Now you can rest easy knowing you can in fact be over, under, or just regularly whelmed.