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 And yet despite this maelstrom of inspiring encounters, I was also left with the sense that the vastness and depth of migration literature was inadequately epitomized and understood in this book. Ariel Dorfman, The New York Review of Books, "Songs of Loss and Reinvention," 17 Nov. 2020 By contrast, Europa has almost no atmosphere and is caught up in the maelstrom of radiation from Jupiter’s fierce and enormous magnetic field. Maya Wei-haas, National Geographic, "One of Jupiter's icy moons may glow in the dark," 9 Nov. 2020 The new health director walked into a maelstrom: COVID-19 hospitalizations reached 2,075 in Ohio on Thursday, a record and an increase of 55% over two weeks. Jerry Schwartz,, "One week in an America riven by politics and the plague," 8 Nov. 2020 The new health director walked into a maelstrom: COVID-19 hospitalizations reached 2,075 in Ohio on Thursday, a record and an increase of 55% over two weeks. Jerry Schwartz, Star Tribune, "One week in an America riven by politics and the plague," 8 Nov. 2020 The head of this entity could be appointed for six- to ten-year terms, much as the FBI director is today, to provide even greater separation from the political maelstrom of Washington, D.C. Kirti Shanker, National Review, "Reimagining America’s Infectious-Disease Defense," 26 Oct. 2020 By the end of it, everyone has their ideal loadout and the fighting turns into this maelstrom of elemental spells. Washington Post, "‘Spellbreak’ wants to focus on the game’s magic and it starts with team deathmatch," 22 Oct. 2020 And if there’s any divergence with that: freakout, emotional maelstrom, end of all discussion. Joshua Barone, New York Times, "Anne Washburn Just Wants Her Trump Play to Be Irrelevant," 18 Oct. 2020 Soon enough, the maelstrom stretched beyond procedural matters into the realm of physical threats. Alexander Clapp, The New Republic, "The Vampire Ship," 28 Sep. 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

20 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Maelstrom.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Nov. 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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