may·​hem | \ ˈmā-ˌhem How to pronounce mayhem (audio) , ˈmā-əm How to pronounce mayhem (audio) \

Definition of mayhem

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

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; the English verb maim comes from the same ancestor. The disfigurement sense of mayhem 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 Besides those who were struck by the 33 bullets wildly fired from the Glock pistol, which is registered to James, over a dozen other people were injured in the mayhem. Andrew C. Mccarthy, National Review, 14 Apr. 2022 Police on Tuesday morning also arrested Smiley Martin, 27, who was wounded in the mayhem early Sunday. NBC News, 6 Apr. 2022 In a letter to the judge, Jackson denied taking part in the mayhem. Anne Ryman, The Arizona Republic, 10 Mar. 2022 More than 700 people who took part in the mayhem have been arrested so far, including two who traveled across the country from San Diego County to participate. San Diego Union-Tribune, 24 Dec. 2021 At least seven individuals died in the mayhem, including some who clung to and then fell from a departing American military jet, reports The Associated Press. Brigid Kennedy, The Week, 16 Aug. 2021 Megan Cassidy is a crime reporter with The Chronicle, also covering cops, criminal justice issues and mayhem. Megan Cassidy, San Francisco Chronicle, 3 May 2022 Steroids, by the way, turn out to be about the only serious drug that the president’s poor press secretary, Stephanie (Rachel Dratch, who is to-roll-over-and-die-laughing funny), doesn’t accidentally ingest during the course of the farcical mayhem. Marilyn Stasio, Variety, 28 Apr. 2022 The series may be most effective when the investigators talk to the victims of GTTF’s mayhem, as the human cost of police brutality on everyday people piles up. Washington Post, 24 Apr. 2022 See More

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.

First Known Use of mayhem

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

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

Learn More About mayhem

Time Traveler for mayhem

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast About mayhem

Dictionary Entries Near mayhem



may I just say

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for mayhem

Last Updated

18 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Mayhem.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 May. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for mayhem


may·​hem | \ ˈmā-ˌhem How to pronounce mayhem (audio) , ˈmā-əm How to pronounce mayhem (audio) \

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 How to pronounce mayhem (audio) \

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.

History and Etymology for mayhem

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


Test Your Vocabulary

Eponyms: Words Named After People

Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!