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Is there a single-word noun for an overwhelming feeling that uses overwhelm as its root?

My first thought was to make a gerund, that is, overwhelming. Although overwhelming is normally used as an adjective, this strategy applies to verbs like "cook", since cooking can be both a noun and an adjective.

That being said, I don't think I have ever heard overwhelming use as a noun, such as for example:

The overwhelming was terrible.

Pardon the technical jargon, but that just doesn't sound right. Searching around here and elsewhere online doesn't yield more than people suggesting overwhelming feeling or overwhelmption (although girldetective.net may not be an authoritative source on the English language).

Is there a single word that fits this use case? If not, why does such a word not exist? Is the verb overwhelm part of a certain class of verbs that don't lend themselves to this?

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  • 1
    to quote an old hymn, "..'Neath the whelming flood...." If you simply say "whelming" it carries the "over" meaning with it. So go to the root: An "overwhelming" feeling is in fact a "flood" of feelings.
    – Bob
    Mar 21, 2013 at 13:25
  • @Bob That's certainly new to me! I'll keep that in mind. Mar 21, 2013 at 13:50

3 Answers 3

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The OED includes these words as starting with “overwhelm‑”: overwhelmed, overwhelmedness, overwhelmer, overwhelming, overwhelmingly, overwhelmingness, overwhelmment.

It defines overwhelmment as “overwhelmedness; overwhelmingness” and gives these citations:

  • 1866 W. M. Thomas tr. Hugo’s Toilers of Sea II. vii. i. 90 — There is a degree of overwhelmment which abstracts the mind entirely from its fellowship with man.
  • 1960 Angling Times 9 Sept. 6/2 — Our river may cause love at first sight, a sudden instantaneous overwhelmment with its manifest beauty.

Note that overwhelming can itself be used as a noun. Here is one of the OED citations for that:

  • 1883 Athenæum 4 Aug. 134/3 - A story of a sharp fight for existence and an ultimate overwhelming.
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I recently spotted "overwhelm" itself used as a noun, although the usage seems a little odd to me.
The line was:

Climate change is a planetary emergency of overwhelming proportions. The challenges we face can be difficult even to think about leading to denial, overwhelm, or apathy.

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  • I found similar use on Wikitionary: "The fact is, that full permeation and understanding of an overwhelm or trauma makes it cease as an overwhelm or trauma." Source
    – HuaTham
    Apr 19, 2018 at 13:54
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I cannot think of a generic word for an overwhelming feeling or sensation, but a good strategy is to up the ante on the feeling you intend to describe. Use a stronger word with additional connotations to do so.

  • Fear — Try terror, panic, dread, horror, fright
  • Happiness — Try bliss, joy, elation, glee, ecstasy
  • Tiredness — Try ennui, enervation, torpor, listlessness, indolence, languor
  • Sadness — Try grief, misery, sorrow, gloom, melancholy, woe
  • Anger — Try fury, rage

In the case of your example, you want something that is terrible, so pick a feeling with some hefty negative connotations, and then replace terrible with another adjective that implies “overwhelmption”.

  • The dread was palpable.

  • I was crushed with woe.

  • Her glee was infectious.

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  • So I take it that a word with "overwhelm" as the root doesn't exist? I was specifically wondering about that word (or class of words) out of curiosity, but synonyms are always an option of course. Mar 21, 2013 at 1:24
  • I haven't seen a noun form of 'overwhelm' You could also try a more powerful verb We were barraged by grief.
    – Ben Norris
    Mar 21, 2013 at 1:27
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    It seems that overwhelmedness is a word, but it's cumbersome.
    – Ben Norris
    Mar 21, 2013 at 1:30
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    I’m not sure what counts as “counts as a word” in your book, but the OED attests all of these that begin with “overwhelm‑”: overwhelmed, overwhelmedness, overwhelmer, overwhelming, overwhelmingly, overwhelmingness, overwhelmment.
    – tchrist
    Mar 21, 2013 at 1:39
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    Answer does not fit the question.
    – MetaEd
    Mar 21, 2013 at 3:25

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