mael·​strom | \ ˈmāl-strəm How to pronounce maelstrom (audio) , -ˌsträm \

Definition of maelstrom

1 : a powerful often violent whirlpool sucking in objects within a given radius tried to shoot the canoe across a stretch of treacherous maelstromHarper's
2 : something resembling a maelstrom in turbulence the maelstrom enveloping the country a maelstrom of emotions

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Synonyms for maelstrom


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Did You Know?

Maelstrom comes from an early Dutch proper noun that literally meant "turning stream." The original Maelstrom is a channel that has dangerous tidal currents located off the northwest coast of Norway. The word became popularized in the general vocabulary of English in reference to a powerful whirlpool, or something akin to one, in the 19th century. This was partly due to its use by writers such as Edgar Allan Poe and Jules Verne (whose writing was widely translated from French) in stories exaggerating the tempestuousness of the Norwegian current and transforming it into a whirling vortex.

Examples of maelstrom in a Sentence

She was caught in a maelstrom of emotions. The ship was drawn into the maelstrom.
Recent Examples on the Web The price of these rewards was living in a maelstrom of other people’s opinions. Helen Lewis, The Atlantic, "What Happened to Jordan Peterson?," 2 Mar. 2021 First, the president’s remarks were only indirectly illuminating: The Cuomo maelstrom is sufficiently serious that the Obama II White House ventriloquists no longer see remaining mum as an option. Andrew C. Mccarthy, National Review, "Cuomo Responds with Standard BS to Biden’s Reflexive BS," 18 Mar. 2021 The institution repeatedly failed or declined to protect Meghan from the years-long maelstrom of negative, false press. Emma Hinchliffe, Fortune, "Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex gets her voice back," 8 Mar. 2021 Removing a player as the logo would create a maelstrom of controversy. Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press, "It’s time for the NBA to change its logo to a Black player. Here's why," 1 Mar. 2021 Somehow, the roiling maelstrom winds up perfectly stable and superficially simple — mimicking, in certain respects, a trio of quarks. Quanta Magazine, "Decades-Long Quest Reveals Details of the Proton’s Inner Antimatter," 24 Feb. 2021 The family has a tendency of drumming up a maelstrom of scandals to hype the premiere of their reality show. Natalie Morin,, "There’s A Reason Kim & Khloé Kardashian Are Stirring Up Post-Split Rumours," 22 Feb. 2021 Impulsively, Yeun liked the photo, which set off a maelstrom of outrage. New York Times, "The Many Lives of Steven Yeun," 3 Feb. 2021 Countries, workers and industries that rely on making stuff—from computers to furniture to toys—are getting by, or even thriving, amid the economic maelstrom. Paul Hannon, WSJ, "Manufacturers Fare Better Than Many Service Providers in Covid-19 Economy," 7 Nov. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'maelstrom.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of maelstrom

1659, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for maelstrom

obsolete Dutch (now maalstroom), from malen to grind + strom stream

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Time Traveler for maelstrom

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The first known use of maelstrom was in 1659

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Last Updated

7 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Maelstrom.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 Apr. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of maelstrom

: a situation in which there are a lot of confused activities, emotions, etc.
: a dangerous area of water that moves very fast in a circle

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