overwhelm - what's the noun?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by linguist786, Feb 11, 2007.

  1. linguist786 Senior Member

    Blackburn, England
    English, Gujarati & Urdu
    This may sound very silly of me, but what is the noun derived from "overwhelm"? I just keep saying to myself "overwhelmedness" but obviously that's just wrong! My brain's gone dead..
     
  2. billydagreek

    billydagreek Junior Member

    English Canada
    Somebody can correct me but I don't think you can use "overwhelm" as a noun. It's a verb with an object like "The Greeks overwhelmed the city."
     
  3. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Urbana-Champaign, IL
    Am. English, Pal. Arabic (See profile)
    I don't know that there is one. What type of sentence would you want to use it in?
     
  4. technostick New Member

    English, England.
    For its nominalisation (i.e. the act of being overwhelmed), one can use overwhelming.

    "The overwhelming of the city by the Greeks."
     
  5. linguist786 Senior Member

    Blackburn, England
    English, Gujarati & Urdu
    Well that puts my mind at rest :D

    elroy, I don't want to use it in English. I want to show somebody how the sentence "I feel overwhelmed" would translate literally to in Urdu. In Urdu though, we use the noun of overwhelm, so I'm trying to show that.
     
  6. Song Sprite Senior Member

    English, Canada
    One of my textbooks in college frequently uses the phrase "multiple overwhelmings" to refer to the forces which overwhelm, and/or thei acts of overwhelming.
     
  7. aparis2 Senior Member

    Maryland, United States
    American English
    Would overwhelmingness be the answer? I think simply using overwhelming, as in multiple overwhelmings, could work. However, overwhelmingness is both in the dictionary on this Web site and on http://reference.dictionary.com. Additionally, while typing this post, my MacBook has underlined "overwhelmings," thus furthering the notion that it is incorrect, or at least less correct than overwhelmingness is.
     
  8. SMTBSI New Member

    English - US
    Now I was just having a conversation with a friend who is studying for the MCATs, and he was describing the huge amount of work he wanted to get done before the evening is over.

    After he finished, I said to him something along the lines of: "Are you trying to push your overwhelmedness off onto me or something?"

    The idea i was trying to suggest was that he was attempting to somehow isolate the state or quality of his being currently overwhelmed and transfer it from him to me. So in this case, neither "overwhelming" nor "overwhelmth" works at all.

    Is there any other way to say it aside from "state or quality of being overwhelmed"? That doesn't exactly roll off the tongue...




    In the case of other qualitative mental states, this is easy. For example, consider:

    1.) "You are angry; are you trying to transfer that to me?"

    Here, "that" can be readily replaced with a noun form of "angry":

    2.) "You are angry; are you trying to transfer your anger to me?"

    It seems reasonable that sentence #1 can easily and understandably be converted to handle "overwhelm":

    1a.) You are overwhelmed. Are you trying to transfer that to me?"

    But the second sentence doesn't seem to have an immediately obvious counterpart:

    2a.) You are overwhelmed. Are you trying to transfer your ???? to me?"

    I.E. while "that" clearly refers to something, and we clearly know what that something is (the "state or quality of being overwhelmed"), there doesn't seem to be a word we can substitute in to be more specific.




    It seems odd to me that some adjectives about emotional states can be used in this way but other cannot.

    You are [Angry]. Are you trying to transfer your [Anger] to me?
    ...[Frustrated] ... [Frustration]
    Sad / Sadness
    Stupified / Stupification
    Forlon / Forlornness


    I really cannot think, at the moment, of any other adjective related to emotion, besides "overwhelmed" that cannot be expressed as a noun that satisfactorily completes sentence #2.


    Ok. "Distraught" seems to be a candidate, but I have seen both "distraughtness" and "distressedness" cited as being correct for this case (the implication being that "distress" is what one is experiencing when one is "distraught", and "distressedness" being 'the state or quality of being distressed').



    How can it be that a language has such simple thoughts that are inexpressable? "Overwhelmedness" must be a word.
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2011
  9. SMTBSI New Member

    English - US
    Hm. I think I'm confusing myself here.

    "Anger" is not "the state or quality of being angry" - it would have to be "angriness" (which spell check doesn't correct me on).

    Most of my other examples, however, cannot be treated this way: "Stupfiedness" obviously just doesn't work, but, even worse, while "angry" can be rendered as a verb two different ways - "anger" and "angriness", words like "sad", "forlorn", and "overwhelmed" would end up having both noun forms being spelled exactly the same way if subjected to this scheme.


    I'm clearly in over my head here. Nothing to see here - just forget I stopped by.
     
  10. eni8ma

    eni8ma Senior Member

    Australia
    English - Australia
    I think you were fine in saying "anger" for the context you stated.

    As for "overwhelm", strictly speaking, it is a verb, but I actually use it as a noun myself on occasions, when I say that "what I am feeling is overwhelm". No-one has looked surprised at the way I used the word.

    I am a native speaker, and we can play with the language between friends.

    For your context, you could say to your friend, "You are overwhelmed; are you trying to make me feel overwhelmed, too?"
     
  11. SMTBSI New Member

    English - US
    I could say something like that, although in this case I was specifically trying to suggest that he was removing the feeling of ... overwhelmth... from himself, and putting it on me instead, rather than just making me share in it.

    I just don't like it when a language refuses to allow me to express a coherent thought I have within my head.

    I can refer to the state or quality of being angry, but I cannot refer to the state or quality of being overwhelmed (at least in any other way than "the state or quality of being overwhelmed"). That is a problem to me.
     
  12. eni8ma

    eni8ma Senior Member

    Australia
    English - Australia
    In that case, say "Oh, so you are overwhelmed, but you are trying to make me feel overwhelmed instead?" with emphasis on 'you' and 'me'.

    I still reckon the noun from overwhelm is 'overwhelm'. (Not in strictly correct English, of course, but we do make new nouns and verbs at the drop of a hat, so why not?)
     
  13. SMTBSI New Member

    English - US
    Hm. That doesn't seem to quite do it for me. I suppose I would have to copy the whole conversation to make it clear, but it went more or less like this:

    Friend: Rattles off a frighteningly long list of things he has to get done before the day is over.
    Me: Inquires as to whether, by subjecting me to that depressingly long list, he is trying to somehow find relief by moving his state of overwhelmedness from himself to me.


    Now, the larger structure of my thought is not strictly relevant - how to articulate what I'm thinking is my own problem - but the point is that by trying to describe a situation where he was metaphorically transferring an emotion from himself to me, I need to refer to the thing that is actually being transferred (this is why I simplified the sentence down to "are you trying to transfer X to me?" - it addresses the main issue in question while cutting everything else out). Your sentence does not really achieve that.



    For "anger", the basic substance of this idea of transfer can be articulated as "are you trying to transfer your anger to me?".

    For "overwhelmed", since I can't refer to the emotion directly as a noun, it appears I need to really spell out my thoughts to a much greater degree: "Are you trying to make yourself no longer feel overwhelmed by making me feel so in your stead?"

    This is not exactly something you'd say in casual conversation.
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2011
  14. SMTBSI New Member

    English - US
    My own convoluted thought processes are really muddling the issue here, I think. The question basically is: are we prepared to say that you can refer to some emotions directly as nouns, but not others (at least, without using a construction like "the feeling of being overwhelmed/distraught")?

    Sure, we can construct our sentences in such a way to avoid the need to do so, but the same could be said for "angry", and "sad", and every other emotion that did get a noun form or two.
     
  15. eni8ma

    eni8ma Senior Member

    Australia
    English - Australia
    Sure, there's no proper noun for overwhelm; however, as I have said, I have used it as a noun, without raising any eyebrows.

    Perhaps "Oh, so you are overwhelmed, but you are trying to transfer your overwhelm to me instead?"
     
  16. SMTBSI New Member

    English - US
    Shrug. If the solution is that there is no solution and we're just, by virtue of all being native speakers, supposed to be able to 'get the idea', I guess I'll be using "overwhelmth" from now on.
     
  17. eni8ma

    eni8ma Senior Member

    Australia
    English - Australia
    What don't you like about the suggestion I just gave?

    Why don't you like 'overwhelm' as a noun?
     
  18. SMTBSI New Member

    English - US
    On the one hand, we seem to be narrowing in on accepting the fact that we're going to be using something other than a conventional noun-style formulation, so your way is as good as any. As well, it benefits from being an actual word in the first place.

    On the other, using a verb directly as a noun seems to me to depend so heavily on context that it may actually be less confusing to use a made up form that at least has some superficial appearance of nounhood.


    There is one major problem, however. Even if we adopt your suggestion for "overwhelm", we've only addressed one case. What about the aforementioned "distraught"? Not only does "distraught" not have a clear noun form, but it doesn't have a clear verb form either (unless we're permitting "to distress", as mentioned earlier).



    Perhaps we decide we're just going to stick to a scheme of using the simplest and most common formulation of the word as the noun. But if we establish that we are comfortable using an adjective ("distraught") as a noun for these cases, then why not be consistent and always use the adjective - in this case, using "overwhelmed" instead of "overwhelm"? At least then our new system has some semblance of grammatical character.

    On the other hand, if we don't want to use an adjective as a noun, then "distraught" is either going to need a new made up form anyway (and if we're making up forms, we might as well get it all done at once and create a rule that addresses every adjective that has this particular shortcoming), or to be abandoned as forever un-nounable.

    In all three cases (1. permitting use of the adjective form as a noun, 2. coming up with a rule to uniformly nounify adjectives that don't currently have a clear noun form, 3. saying "forget it - just rephrase your thought"), the argument swings against "overwhelm".
     
  19. eni8ma

    eni8ma Senior Member

    Australia
    English - Australia
    distraught -> 'distraction' as in "driven to distraction", ie. driven to feeling distraught

    see http://www.alphadictionary.com/goodword/word/distraught
    "The noun accompanying this adjective is distraction"

    Since I have used overwhelm as a noun a few times in everyday speech, and it was accepted without comment or change of expression, I regard that as a fairly strong case for accepting it as a provisional noun.

    I know that if I were to say overwhelmth, or some other variation, that people would immediately question it, and give me funny looks.

    Anyhow - it's up to you :) I'm happy with the suggestion I made
     
  20. SMTBSI New Member

    English - US
    Distraction, huh? Learn something new every day. I'll have to think of another example (I just can't bring myself to expect that 'overwhelmed' is the only adjective in the English language without an accepted noun form).

    Of course you're free to continue with your usage - I never meant to suggest otherwise.
     
  21. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    There are a number of nouns derived from overwhelm, but the thing is that they are very rarely used, to the extent that many listeners my think they are "made up" by the speaker.

    The first one is overwhelm itself, which refers to the action of overwhelming or the state of being overwhelmed:
    They are there in case a person goes into emotional overwhelm.

    Others are overwhelmingness, overwhelmedness and, believe it or not, overwhelmment. It would be a brave writer, I think, who used the latter:
    But astonishingly different as their live sound was...the difference got lost in my general overwhelmment by the city. [John Barth]

    There is a word for someone who overwhelms (John Barth, perhaps?): overwhelmer. Most, if not all, of these words will send your spell-checker into a state of overwhelmment.
     
  22. SMTBSI New Member

    English - US
    Now we're talking!

    Whether I'll be using any of those forms on a regular basis is another question, but I just couldn't believe the language would be completely unable to handle the situation.


    (PS: As the general belief appeared to be, in this thread, that "overwhelmedness" was in no way shape or form a legitimate word, may I ask your reference?)
     
  23. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    It's in the Oxford English Dictionary (the full edition). The only other online dictionary I can find that carries it is the plucky Wiktionary (which, of course, as with the 'pedia, may not be reliable). I can't provide a link for the OED, unfortunately, as it is subscription only. However, here is a quote from the New York Times (2002):

    Last year, it was a feeling of shock and horror and fear, just overwhelmedness.
     
  24. SMTBSI New Member

    English - US
    Good enough for me.

    It may not be airtight, but at least I can point folk back here to see some conversation on the topic if it ever comes up again.

    Thanks!
     
  25. grammarpolice333 New Member

    Sevierville, TN
    English
    I'm one of the many whose answer is, "You can't!" I am editor for a book publisher and since 2005 when I came on board, I've had 3 authors who feel strongly about their using overwhelm as a noun. :eek:

    My stock answer is:

    You can feel overwhelmed but you cannot feel overwhelm. The latter usage is incorrect grammar. The word overwhelm is a verb or transitive verb. Some people try to use it as a noun, which is incorrect.

    I’ve been told that this is an industry “buzz word” (jargon). Jargon is specialized language used by the members of a particular field or industry, organization, or other group. When you write, you want to avoid the use of jargon. Using jargon might make you feel like an expert, but it can put off the average reader. Though it may be acceptable and even useful among the members of the specific group, jargon should be avoided when writing to a general audience.

    The word whelm, whatever its etymology, is not used as a noun in current English. There just is no reason to turn the word into an unneeded synonym for overload or stress. As references, I give them several dictionary websites, which has usually done the trick. I am continually amazed at authors who want to argue with the editor! Especially when I have given them chapter and verse where to find an "authoritative" answer! :confused:

    ---------------------------------- Sandra
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2014
  26. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    OED
    Over 400 years of use... ;)
     
  27. grammarpolice333 New Member

    Sevierville, TN
    English
    I wonder if what I'm thinking about this is another way to look at it: I'm not sure that because something has been in use a long time it should stay in use. I have learned that older is not always better. For example: I am aware that the word "ain't" has been used so much that it is now in the dictionary. Our teachers and parents could shut up our arguments by saying, "Ain't ain't in the dictionary," and that would end the conversation.

    But in the dictionary (Merriam-Webster), it is noted that the word is "widely disapproved as nonstandard . . ."

    So, I think that the standard usage of overwhelm and its variants is the best, but that is my opinion, of course. :rolleyes:
     
  28. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    Neither was I. That is why there is a ";)" at the end. There are many words both old and rare in a dictionary, some may be resurrected, others become extinct and fossilized.

    Quite simply put, people do use "overwhelm" as a noun. Some people refuse to accept this use. We must accept that we have no authority over language and that history is littered with the bones of the pedantic and remembered and inspired by the innovators.

    There are words and phrases that detract from the style, impact, mood, ease of reading, comprehension etc of a passage or document, and these should be avoided. I am not at all sure, in the examples of 'overwhelm' in the OED that anything has been lost.
    A correct reading of that is "many people think that the word is non-standard, they do this on personal opinion alone."

    If we all used "overwhelm" as a noun, then what would those who oppose say?
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2014
  29. AlmostMelchior Junior Member

    English USA
    For contemporary speakers, there is none. One would say something else. 'Overwhelming victory' comes to mind.

    'Overwhelm' as a noun today would be considered non-standard, even for Donald Barthelme.
     
  30. grammarpolice333 New Member

    Sevierville, TN
    English
    I see your point(s). :)
     
  31. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    Devon
    British English
    Is America in 2002 close enough to be 'contemporary'?
     
  32. AlmostMelchior Junior Member

    English USA
    'A feeling of being overwhelmed' would be the way to do it.
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2014
  33. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    Devon
    British English
    But why, when there's a word that has the required meaning and meets the OP's requirement? And the merit of being a single word, not five.
     
  34. AlmostMelchior Junior Member

    English USA
    It's just two:

    'being overwhelmed'.

    'A feeling of' was already there.


    I would strongly advise against using such a word because it's not idiomatic (not common enough) and pretentious.
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2014
  35. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    Devon
    British English
    If we are to reject words on the basis that they are 'not common enough' we might as well go to the fictional 1984 and 'Newspeak'. You go, I won't join you.
     
  36. AlmostMelchior Junior Member

    English USA
    It's unnecessary, ugly, pretentious, for starters. It's not part of idiom.

    If I saw that in print I would laugh hysterically at the incompetence of the writer.

    I am a native English speaker and I reject it.
     
  37. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    Hmmm... 'A feeling of being overwhelmed' just does not cut it for the style and nuances, does it?

    <<>>
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2014
  38. AlmostMelchior Junior Member

    English USA



    The quote was:

    2002 N.Y. Times (Nexis) 12 Sept. a1/1 Last year, it was a feeling of shock and horror and fear, just overwhelmedness.

    Instead I propose:

    2002 N.Y. Times (Nexis) 12 Sept. a1/1 Last year, it was a feeling of shock and horror and fear, just being utterly overwhelmed.

    Or:

    2002 N.Y. Times (Nexis) 12 Sept. a1/1 Last year, it was a feeling of overwhelming shock and horror and fear..
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2014
  39. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    As I said, your alternatives do not seem to cut it for the style and nuance. They seem to me far too pedestrian, usual, run of the mill, lacking immediacy, etc. It is as if you were reporting a reaction to a garage sale. <<>>
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2014

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