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


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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 black holes could be primordial, having hung around since the maelstrom of the early universe before the first stars were born. Daniel Clery, Science | AAAS, "Middleweight black holes finally found but they pose a puzzle," 2 Sep. 2020 This is your first book being released in the wake of your being at the center of the RWA maelstrom. Maureen Lee Lenker,, "Romance author Courtney Milan reveals new cover, reflects on RWA implosion," 24 Aug. 2020 In short, recent years have been a dark maelstrom, a Hieronymus Bosch hellscape, in which, under the guise of the pursuit of pleasure, individuals are tortured, dehumanized, discarded, destroyed. Claire Messud, Harper's Magazine, "Disappearing Ink," 18 Aug. 2020 DeJoy has agreed to testify before a House committee next week, an opportunity to tamp down the maelstrom. The Editors, National Review, "No, the Postal Service Isn’t Stealing the Election," 17 Aug. 2020 The latter requires vulnerability and transparency, and new parents, in the maelstrom of the arrival of a new child, may not have the ability to form such close, sturdy familiarities. Pooja Makhijani, New York Times, "How to Handle a Mom-Friend Breakup," 25 June 2020 Almost instantly, Hiroshima erupted in a maelstrom of fire and destruction; tens of thousands would die within minutes, and perhaps 100,000 more would succumb in the aftermath. National Geographic, "Did the U.S. plan to drop more than two atomic bombs on Japan?," 4 Aug. 2020 And then the legal maelstrom began, with GME and Pritchett pitted against Florida and France. Chad Lewis, Smithsonian Magazine, "A Shipwreck Off Florida’s Coast Pits Archaeologists Against Treasure Hunters," 22 Jan. 2020 An already wrenching decision is further complicated by a brewing political maelstrom — escalating daily as President Trump demands in all-caps tweets that schools reopen nationwide. Hannah Natanson, Washington Post, "Fairfax teachers, parents face a wrenching choice about fall. Betsy DeVos made it political.," 12 July 2020

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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Time Traveler for maelstrom

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The first known use of maelstrom was in 1659

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Last Updated

9 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Maelstrom.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Sep. 2020.

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More Definitions for maelstrom


How to pronounce maelstrom (audio)

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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