adj. numb·er, numb·est
1. Deprived of the power to feel or move normally; benumbed: toes numb with cold; too numb with fear to cry out.
2. Emotionally unresponsive; indifferent: numb to yet another appeal.
tr. & intr.v. numbed, numb·ing, numbs
To make or become numb.
[Middle English nome, variant of nomin, past participle of nimen, to seize, from Old English niman; see nem- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Word History: Old English had a number of strong verbs (often loosely called "irregular" verbs) that did not survive into Modern English. One such was the verb niman, "to take," later replaced by take, a borrowing from Old Norse. The verb had a past tense nam and a past participle numen; if the verb had survived, it would likely have become nim, nam, num, like swim, swam, swum. Although we do not have the verb as such anymore, its past participle is alive and well, now spelled numb, literally "taken, seized," as by cold or grief. (The older spelling without the b is still seen in the compound numskull.) The verb also lives on indirectly in the word nimble, which used to mean "quick to take," and then later "light, quick on one's feet."
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.