mael·​strom ˈmāl-strəm How to pronounce maelstrom (audio)
: a powerful often violent whirlpool sucking in objects within a given radius
tried to shoot the canoe across a stretch of treacherous maelstromHarper's
: 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.

Example Sentences

She was caught in a maelstrom of emotions. The ship was drawn into the maelstrom.
Recent Examples on the Web Years later, the captors, having spent her fortune, disappear, and Marguerite, now seventeen, is writing a memoir about her ordeal and weathering a media maelstrom. The New Yorker, 26 Sep. 2022 Adidas and other brands have cut ties with Ye amid the maelstrom. Brian Contreras, Los Angeles Times, 1 Dec. 2022 Talk about your all-time method acting, and Spacek's largely empathetic performance mixes into a maelstrom of murder when her character finally snaps and wipes out most of her schoolmates and the faculty at the infamous prom. Steven Thrash,, 14 Nov. 2022 Unsurprisingly, the docuseries caused a maelstrom of reactions on the internet, with many sharing their opinions on social media. Jasmine Browley, Essence, 15 Dec. 2022 Schrödinger in Oxford differs from the others in focusing at least initially on Schrödinger’s years in Oxford, where he was employed in 1933 after abruptly fleeing Berlin and the developing Nazi maelstrom. Rebecca Coffey, Forbes, 17 May 2022 In Greece, Predator is also at the center of a domestic political maelstrom. Matina Stevis-gridneff, New York Times, 8 Dec. 2022 That’s when the Fab Four of digital content suddenly found themselves at the center of a maelstrom of bad publicity. Seth Abramovitch, The Hollywood Reporter, 28 Nov. 2022 The White House has tried to keep Biden removed from the legal and political maelstrom surrounding the Department of Justice’s discovery of classified documents in Trump’s Florida home. Zeke Miller, Chris Megerian, Anchorage Daily News, 1 Sep. 2022 See More

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.

Word History


obsolete Dutch (now maalstroom), from malen to grind + strom stream

First Known Use

1659, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of maelstrom was in 1659


Dictionary Entries Near maelstrom

Cite this Entry

“Maelstrom.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


mael·​strom ˈmā(ə)l-strəm How to pronounce maelstrom (audio)
: a strong violent whirlpool dangerous to ships
: a great confusion
a maelstrom of emotions

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