may·hem | \ˈmā-ˌhem, ˈmā-əm \

Definition of mayhem 

1a : willful and permanent deprivation of a bodily member resulting in the impairment of a person's fighting ability

b : willful and permanent crippling, mutilation, or disfigurement of any part of the body

2 : needless or willful damage or violence movies filled with murder and mayhem

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Mayhem Has Legal Roots

Legally speaking, mayhem refers to the gruesome crime of deliberately causing an injury that permanently disfigures another. The name derives via Middle English from the Anglo-French verb maheimer ("to maim") and is probably of Germanic origin; our own verb "to maim" comes from the same ancestor. The disfigurement sense first appeared in English in the 15th century. By the 19th century the word had come to mean any kind of violent behavior; nowadays, "mayhem" can be used to suggest any kind of chaos or disorder, as in, "there was mayhem in the streets during the citywide blackout."

Examples of mayhem in a Sentence

movies filled with murder and mayhem a criminal who escaped from prison and caused mayhem

Recent Examples on the Web

While Washington has long ago grown numb to Trump’s unrelenting mayhem, the president’s two days of undulations in Brussels, rolling between enraged criticism and boastful, happy proclamations, left many leaders feeling queasy. James Hohmann, Washington Post, "The Daily 202: GOP candidates caught in a bind on Medicaid," 13 July 2018 What that news coverage doesn’t capture is the mayhem, destruction, and loss of life, which is why people can simply root for their onscreen hero. Alissa Wilkinson, Vox, "Watching Skyscraper is like watching someone play a video game starring The Rock," 11 July 2018 In late April, assistant transportation commissioner Sean Wiedel shared a Guardian article with colleagues about San Francisco scooter mayhem, including crashes, tripping injuries, and a cease-and-desist order from the city. John Greenfield, Chicago Reader, "Cycling / News / Transportation Electric scooters could be next to clog Chicago’s sidewalks and bike lanes," 25 June 2018 Pratt brings a wry derring-do to the mayhem, and the escape from Isla Nublar has its modicum of thrills. Peter Rainer, The Christian Science Monitor, "'Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom' is the latest and arguably least of the series," 22 June 2018 The clip also features a lesbian couple in the midst of the mayhem, sharing a sweet kiss toward the end of the video. Gary Graff, Billboard, "Mayday Parade Are 'Angry' But 'Hopeful' In New Video for Upcoming 'Sunnyland' Album: Premiere," 31 May 2018 North Korea is well aware of what happened to Qaddafi and Libya (eventual murder and mayhem). Christina Cliff, Fortune, "Trump’s First Meeting With Kim May Be Little More Than a Photo Op," 11 June 2018 And the combative drug scene, worked by dealers and users around the clock, with an agenda of murder and mayhem, kept many potential visitors away. New York Times, "5 New York Times Writers on What They Got Right and Wrong in the Early ’80s," 13 Apr. 2018 While many familiar tropes are present, including murder, mayhem, a tough lawman and a tentative posse, Thornton uses them to tell a 20th century outback story and offer sharp, pointed commentary on relations between whites and indigenous peoples. Kenneth Turan,, "Australian western 'Sweet Country' spotlights race relations in the outback," 5 Apr. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'mayhem.' 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 mayhem

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for mayhem

Middle English mayme, mahaime, from Anglo-French mahaim mutilation, mayhem, from maheimer, mahaigner to maim, probably of Germanic origin; akin to Middle High German meiden gelding, Old Norse meitha to injure

Anglo-French mahaim mahain, literally, mutilation, from Old French mahain, from mahaignier to injure, mutilate

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Last Updated

15 Oct 2018

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The first known use of mayhem was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for mayhem



English Language Learners Definition of mayhem

: actions that hurt people and destroy things : a scene or situation that involves a lot of violence


may·hem | \ˈmā-ˌhem, ˈmā-əm \

Medical Definition of mayhem 

: willful and permanent crippling, mutilation, or disfiguring of any part of another's body also : the crime of engaging in mayhem physicians, accused…of sterilizing her through trickery, were ordered held for trial on charges of conspiracy to commit mayhem Associated Press


may·hem | \ˈmā-ˌhem, -əm \

Legal Definition of mayhem 

: willful and permanent crippling, mutilation, or disfigurement of any part of another's body also : the crime of engaging in mayhem

Note: Under the Model Penal Code and the codes of the states that follow it, mayhem is encompassed by assault and aggravated assault.

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


evasion of direct action or statement

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