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?

The original Maelstrom, also known as the Mostenstraumen or Moskstraumen, is a channel located off the northwest coast of Norway that has dangerous tidal currents. English speakers became familiar with its (often exaggerated) perils through literature—Edgar Allan Poe wrote a story called “A Descent into the Maelstrom,” and Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea has—spoiler alert—a maelstrom at its climax. The English word arrived by way of the Dutch word maelstrom, which today is spelled maalstroom. (The Dutch word combines the verb malen, meaning “to grind,” and the noun strom, “stream.”) English speakers have applied the word to any powerful whirlpool since the 16th century, and by the 19th century they’d begun to apply it figuratively to things or situations resembling such maelstroms in turbulence or confusion.

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 global financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic — which were separated by only 10 years and did cause global recessions — show that while rare, such maelstroms can coincidentally occur back to back. Talmon Joseph Smith, New York Times, 11 Apr. 2024 In September 2018, Ford – a Ph.D. in psychology, a professor at Palo Alto University, and a mother of two – jumped straight into the maelstrom of American politics. Tracy Smith, CBS News, 17 Mar. 2024 Health Connect is the last portion of this mini-news maelstrom. Florence Ion / Gizmodo, Quartz, 26 Feb. 2024 Parents and teachers loyal to their existing schools often felt voiceless and powerless in the ensuing political maelstrom. Corie Brown, Los Angeles Times, 14 Dec. 2023 The online maelstrom that fueled KateGate came largely from outside Britain — and especially from across the Atlantic. Elizabeth Paton, New York Times, 25 Mar. 2024 Back in Britain, William made a comment that, knowingly or otherwise, hinted at the maelstrom over his wife’s penchant for visual creativity. Alexander Smith, NBC News, 15 Mar. 2024 Barnett’s death has spurred further controversy for Boeing at a time when the company was already enduring a maelstrom of negative press due to ongoing safety incidents involving its planes. Lucas Ropek / Gizmodo, Quartz, 13 Mar. 2024 Peso isn’t there as a maelstrom of opening brass notes charge out of the sound system. Julyssa Lopez, Rolling Stone, 11 Mar. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'maelstrom.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1588, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of maelstrom was in 1588


Dictionary Entries Near maelstrom

Cite this Entry

“Maelstrom.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 May. 2024.

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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