mael·​strom ˈmāl-strəm How to pronounce maelstrom (audio)
: a powerful often violent whirlpool sucking in objects within a given radius
tried to shoot the canoe across a stretch of treacherous maelstromHarper's
: something resembling a maelstrom in turbulence
the maelstrom enveloping the country
a maelstrom of emotions

Did you know?

Maelstrom comes from an early Dutch proper noun that is a combination of the verb malen ("to grind") and the noun stroom ("stream"). The original Maelstrom, now known as the Moskstraumen, is a channel located off the northwest coast of Norway that has dangerous tidal currents and has been popularized among English speakers by writers such as Edgar Allan Poe and Jules Verne (whose writing was widely translated from French) in stories exaggerating the Maelstrom's tempestuousness and transforming it into a whirling vortex. Maelstrom entered English in the 16th century and was soon applied more generally in reference to any powerful whirlpool. By the mid-19th century, it was being applied figuratively to things or situations resembling such maelstroms in turbulence or confusion.

Example Sentences

She was caught in a maelstrom of emotions. The ship was drawn into the maelstrom.
Recent Examples on the Web The internet is awash with information on the best diets to follow — and navigating this maelstrom of tips and tricks can be daunting. Sean Mowbray, Discover Magazine, 20 Feb. 2023 Whitford's get-out-the-vote trip comes as his character on Handmaid's, Commander Lawrence, is in the middle of his own political maelstrom. Lauren Huff,, 2 Nov. 2022 The global macroeconomic maelstrom has already collapsed one debt-ridden, developing economy (Sri Lanka), while other nations (Zambia, Laos and Pakistan, to name a few) find themselves on the brink. Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, 4 Aug. 2022 Leon, Kennedy and McDonald to sweep us, too, into the maelstrom. Peter Marks, Washington Post, 9 Jan. 2023 What happened next swept everyone in the room into the maelstrom that is Los Angeles politics in late 2022. Brittny Mejia, Los Angeles Times, 11 Dec. 2022 Yellen, 74, who also would be the first woman to head Treasury, faces a maelstrom of challenges, assuming she’s confirmed by the Senate. Paul Davidson, USA TODAY, 24 Nov. 2020 The House and Senate are narrowly divided, but the Swift ticket maelstrom achieved something rare on Capitol Hill. Chad Pergram, Fox News, 26 Jan. 2023 Brooke’s association with Klein also marked her entré into the post-Warholian celebrity maelstrom, the ongoing Studio 54 of it all. Owen Gleiberman, Variety, 20 Jan. 2023 See More

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.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1659, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of maelstrom was in 1659


Dictionary Entries Near maelstrom

Cite this Entry

“Maelstrom.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


mael·​strom ˈmā(ə)l-strəm How to pronounce maelstrom (audio)
: a strong violent whirlpool dangerous to ships
: a great confusion
a maelstrom of emotions

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