Old English ofercuman "to reach, overtake," also "to conquer, prevail over," from ofer (see over) + cuman "to come" (see come (v.)). A common Germanic compound (Middle Dutch overkomen, Old High German ubarqueman, German überkommen). In reference to mental or chemical force, "to overwhelm, render helpless," it is in late Old English. Meaning "to surmount" (a difficulty or obstacle) is from c. 1200. The Civil Rights anthem "We Shall Overcome" was put together c. 1950s from lyrics from Charles Tindley's spiritual "I'll Overcome Some Day" (1901), and melody from pre-Civil War spiritual "No More Auction Block for Me." Related: Overcame; overcoming.
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