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

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Synonyms for maelstrom


gulf, vortex, whirlpool

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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 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 The Pawnee Fire began on Saturday and quickly exploded, as seen in a time lapse video of the maelstrom yesterday. Ian Livingston, Washington Post, "PM Update: Pleasantly cool tonight, and remaining beautiful through Tuesday," 25 June 2018 Falsely portraying this young girl and child star as a raging homicidal bigot is heinous, and Brown deleting her Twitter to avoid this maelstrom is a logical response to the internet’s festering orgy of toilet humor. Alex Abad-santos, Vox, "How the “homophobic Millie Bobby Brown” meme made the actress quit Twitter.," 14 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.

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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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Statistics for maelstrom

Last Updated

28 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for maelstrom

The first known use of maelstrom was in 1659

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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

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Spanish Central: Translation of maelstrom

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

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