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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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

This was met with a maelstrom of condemnation from his opponents and independent experts who said that asking for what will be the longest suspension in decades amounted to an undemocratic abuse of power. NBC News, "Court says Boris Johnson's suspension of Parliament is unlawful — so what now for Brexit?," 11 Sep. 2019 The confusion around Trump's statements has caused a maelstrom within the some of the government's most vital scientific agencies. The Washington Post, oregonlive, "NOAA’s chief scientist will investigate why agency backed Trump over its experts on Dorian, email shows," 9 Sep. 2019 The confusion around Trump's statements has caused a maelstrom within the some of the government's most vital scientific agencies. al, "NOAA investigating response to Trump’s Alabama Dorian comments," 9 Sep. 2019 Our goal of this package is not to ostracize, separate, or add to the maelstrom of click-bait on the internet. Lindsay Schallon, Glamour, "Let's Talk About the ‘F’ Word," 26 Aug. 2019 Robbed upon arrival in Kingston, Ivan Martin (Cliff) founders at first in the urban maelstrom. J. Hoberman, New York Times, "‘The Harder They Come’: A Pop Classic That Has Hardly Faded," 22 Aug. 2019 Buffeted by this maelstrom of changing tastes and environmental awareness, an industry older than the nation is increasingly at risk. Lydia Mulvany, Fortune, "There’s a Cowhide Glut, As Americans Devour Beef and Leather Falls Out of Fashion," 9 Aug. 2019 Matters only got worse for years after March 2003, as the administration’s failure to adequately prepare for or rapidly adapt to the challenges of stabilizing Iraq left American forces stuck in an intensifying maelstrom. Hal Brands, National Review, "Lessons from the Iraq War," 20 June 2019 Ansari understands the public opinion maelstrom his career will live and die within—its randomness, its hivemindedness, its self-serving cruelty. Emma Grey Ellis, WIRED, "Aziz Ansari's Netflix Special Will Make You Laugh—Awkwardly," 10 July 2019

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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Last Updated

14 Sep 2019

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Time Traveler for maelstrom

The first known use of maelstrom was in 1659

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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

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Spanish Central: Translation of maelstrom

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

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


one from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

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