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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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.

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 That maelstrom of extraordinary news bled into the opening weeks of 2021, with the insurrectionary violence on Capitol Hill taking place just six days into the new year. Damon Linker, The Week, 31 Dec. 2021 In that field now lies the rubble of the candle factory that was smashed when the maelstrom of tornados spiralled through western Kentucky two weeks before Christmas. Bobbie Ann Mason, The New Yorker, 26 Dec. 2021 But amid the maelstrom of the Trump presidency, the Friday-night flight was barely news by Monday. Tim Dickinson, Rolling Stone, 24 June 2021 In late February, opponents officially launched a campaign to recall the five-term supervisor from office amid a maelstrom of mudslinging. Julia Wick, Los Angeles Times, 11 June 2021 Today a maelstrom of gang and cartel conflict, as well as government and police corruption, continues to sweep up civilians, most of them poor and male. Longreads, 8 Apr. 2021 The social-media maelstrom eddied until everyone who went anywhere near it had been somehow damaged. Lauren Collins, The New Yorker, 13 Dec. 2021 The latest decisions by Superintendent Brenda Cassellius have caused a maelstrom at the small, democratically run school in Jamaica Plain founded on progressive ideals., 1 Nov. 2021 These factors were intensified by the maelstrom of the pandemic — and then some. Meghan M. Biro, Forbes, 20 Oct. 2021

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

13 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Maelstrom.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Jan. 2022.

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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 : whirlpool

More from Merriam-Webster on maelstrom

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


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