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 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 According to the Associated Press, officials said that at least seven people had died in the maelstrom at the airport. Naledi Ushe,, 20 Aug. 2021 This was a real problem: if notices of genuine incursions over U.S. territory could be lost in a maelstrom of kooky hallucination, there could be grave consequences for national security—for instance, Soviet spy planes could operate with impunity. The New Yorker, 10 Aug. 2021 News of the shutdown didn’t come as a total shock considering the social media maelstrom that surrounded Kotz earlier this year. Christina Tkacik,, 1 Oct. 2021 Even by the standards of a Capitol used to operating under pressure, this week’s maelstrom of legislative and fiscal crosscurrents is setting the stage for an extraordinary sprint. Andrew Duehren, WSJ, 26 Sep. 2021 And in its final minutes, a reassuring metaphor of sorts in our safe return to dry land after such a maelstrom — safe harbor and the calm that comes with conclusion. Washington Post, 26 Sep. 2021 The maelstrom has opened Biden to a flood of criticism about the competence of his administration. Susan Page, USA TODAY, 30 Aug. 2021 Then the pandemic created an economic maelstrom, with those on the bottom rung most likely to lose their jobs and housing., 20 Sep. 2021 For the other side, the crisis is one of people lacking homes and the maelstrom of medical, psychological and addiction problems that accompany a life on the streets. Frank Shyong Columnist, Los Angeles Times, 16 July 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

16 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Maelstrom.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Oct. 2021.

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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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