mael·​strom | \ˈmāl-strəm, -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

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms for maelstrom


gulf, vortex, whirlpool

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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

Wheeler also began dipping his toes into the biggest media maelstrom of them all — Twitter. Dino Grandoni, Washington Post, "The Energy 202: The EPA won't change policy after Pruitt. But it might be more transparent about it.," 10 July 2018 The maelstrom over the informant began last week, as House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes demanded that the Justice Department turn over documents related to the source, threatening to hold Justice officials in contempt of Congress. Laura Jarrett, CNN, "Officials tell CNN that FBI 'informant' not planted inside Trump campaign," 18 May 2018 The book offers a glimpse into the maelstrom churning in the mind of Amanda Stern, who shares in-depth recollections of her childhood. Zlati Meyer, USA TODAY, "'Little Panic': How the Etan Patz kidnapping terrorized author Amanda Stern," 10 July 2018 The immigration maelstrom also looms large over key races. Karl Rove, WSJ, "Make 2018 About Taxes, Not Migration," 20 June 2018 Despite the off-the-field maelstrom created by the team’s potential move to Austin, Texas — and despite the off-season losses of striker Ola Kamara and winger Justin Meram — Berhalter’s team is in first place in the Eastern Conference. Jonathan Tannenwald,, "Borek Dockal ready to make his Union debut Saturday against Columbus Crew," 16 Mar. 2018 Two months ago, Silverman found herself at the center of a political maelstrom when her ally, Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8), said that the Rothschilds, a wealthy Jewish family, control the weather and the federal government. Paul Schwartzman, Washington Post, "The story must be told.," 29 June 2018 La Cañada Flintridge recently found itself in the center of a media maelstrom, after posts on Twitter and Facebook claimed a Starbucks employee handed a Latino customer beverages labeled with a racial slur where the man's name should have been. Sara Cardine,, "Details continue to emerge in Starbucks flap over alleged use of racial slur," 24 May 2018 The deadline for media members to submit their final NBA Rookie of the Year ballots passed long ago and yet the debate rages on like a maelstrom. Tim Hackett,, "Ben Simmons and the Benefits of a Redshirt Year," 25 June 2018

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about maelstrom

Listen to Our Podcast about maelstrom

Statistics for maelstrom

Last Updated

26 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for maelstrom

The first known use of maelstrom was in 1659

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for maelstrom



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

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on maelstrom

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for maelstrom

Spanish Central: Translation of maelstrom

Nglish: Translation of maelstrom for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about maelstrom

Comments on maelstrom

What made you want to look up maelstrom? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to express warning or disapproval

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Autumn Words of the Day 2018

  • a-top-down-image-of-road-through-an-autumn-forest
  • Which is a synonym of fugacious?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!