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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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 But the maelstrom of questions that began over the weekend could present a formidable challenge to Mr. Pompeo’s political instincts and career ambitions. Edward Wong, New York Times, "Inspector General’s Firing Puts Pompeo’s Use of Taxpayer Funds Under Scrutiny," 17 May 2020 Boeing and Embraer have been in talks for a deal since 2017—but three years later, a maelstrom has exploded onto the scene. Lucinda Shen, Fortune, "IPO 2.0?," 27 Apr. 2020 This new maelstrom comes at a time when the industry was trying to leave behind a particularly messy 2019. Niharika Sharma, Quartz India, "Indian aviation thought 2019 was bad, it didn’t see coronavirus coming," 5 Mar. 2020 The Fed last cut rates by half a point in October 2008, the maelstrom of the financial crisis. The Economist, "Business this week," 5 Mar. 2020 Meanwhile, outside the palace, royal fans are puzzled, anti-monarchy forces are gleeful, and a media maelstrom may be building. Maria Puente, USA TODAY, "What are Harry and Meghan thinking? They don't want to be 'senior royals' anymore?," 8 Jan. 2020 More jobs have concentrated in the urban core and pushed the skyline higher, drawing ever more commuters into the Boston traffic maelstrom., "Seeing red," 19 Nov. 2019 Joker won’t come out in America until October 4, but after its Venice premiere this week a critical maelstrom is already aswirl. Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic, "Is Joker Just a Movie?," 5 Sep. 2019 MeerKAT’s keen radio eyes revealed an unexpected feature, however: titanic threads of radio emissions emerging from the maelstrom. Robin George Andrews, Scientific American, "Strange Extragalactic Strands Mystify Astronomers," 16 Apr. 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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The first known use of maelstrom was in 1659

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Last Updated

24 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Maelstrom.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for maelstrom


How to pronounce maelstrom (audio)

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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