I first encountered overstand only recently, while I was catching up on the most recent season of “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” on Netflix. When I heard the word twice in that episode, I wondered whether it was a Kimmyism like “What the fudge?” or “Troll the respawn.” But no: overstand turns out to be a different sort of invention altogether. In fact, it’s a couple different inventions.
Tituss Burgess as Titus Andromedon in “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” Season 3, Episode 6.
Here’s how “Kimmy” co-star Tituss Burgess defined overstand in an interview earlier this year:
Tituss starts his feybulous story off on the right foot by revealing that [producer] Tina [Fey] really likes a made-up word he uses — “overstand.” It's what you say when someone's explaining something to you but giving you way more information than you need in order to understand. You just say, “I overstand.”
In other words, this sense of overstand is a polite way of saying “TMI!”
There’s an older sense* of overstand a word that’s been around for at least half a century. It originated as Caribbean patois, possibly with Rastafarian roots, and signifies “to have complete or intuitive comprehension [of something].” (Thanks to Twitter friend Akil Bello, who spent seven adolescent years in the U.S. Virgin Islands, for cluing me in.)
i overstand exactly what you mean by "misunderestimate"— Valar Examinulis (@akilbello) March 7, 2017
Wiktionary’s earliest citation is from a 1965 novel by Orlando Patterson, The Children of Sisyphus: “But, Sister, it look like you neither overstand or understand.”
Carol Kane using overstand in “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
The substitution of over- for under- is, however, based on a false understanding of understand. The under- in understand is not equivalent to Latin sub-; according to Online Etymology Dictionary, this under- is closer in meaning to “among” or “amid.” It was common in other Old English compounds such as undersecan (to examine or scrutinize; literally “underseek”) and underginnan (to begin).
The closest equivalent to overstand that I can think of is a truly invented word: grok, which was coined by Robert Heinlein in his 1961 science-fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land. In Heinlein’s fantasy, grok is a Martian word used by the novel’s protagonist, the Martian-raised human Valentine Michael Smith. According to Merriam-Webster: “’Grok’ was quickly adopted by the youth culture of America and has since peppered the vernacular of those who grok it, from the hippies of the '60s to the computerniks of the '90s.”
* Even older senses of overstand include “to stand over” and “to overstay.” Overstand also has a meaning specific to boat racing: “to sail to the mark at a wider angle than is the normal upwind angle.”