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

In April, the Sutherland Springs Facebook group, created to support those affected by the tragedy, erupted into mayhem and was eventually frozen. Silvia Foster-frau, San Antonio Express-News, "Sutherland Springs receives millions in donations to massacre relief fund," 8 July 2018 Police said the man will be charged with mayhem, two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, three counts of assault and battery on a police officer, and four counts of assault with a dangerous weapon. Laney Ruckstuhl,, "Boston police officers injured in struggle with Hyde Park man," 22 June 2018 Last year’s pack race devolved into mayhem that could have gotten one of us killed. Jim Ayello, Indianapolis Star, "Insider: IndyCar strikes balance between bonkers and boring at Texas," 10 June 2018 And that’s what sets it apart, how well Waller-Bridge is able to balance whimsy with mayhem. David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle, "BBC assassination drama ‘Killing Eve’ mixes humor amid mayhem," 5 Apr. 2018 Instead the evening felt much closer to Green Day’s former tenure at Berkeley’s storied 924 Gilman, with plenty of crowd-surfing, flying elbows and an aura of gleeful mayhem. Zack Ruskin,, "Billie Joe Armstrong performs as the Longshot, celebrates punk roots at sold-out homecoming show," 10 July 2018 Garibay, 28, was sentenced Friday in San Diego Superior Court to four life sentences for two counts of attempted murder and one count of aggravated mayhem. Gary Warth,, "Victim of burn attack finds forgiveness, looks ahead," 5 July 2018 Almost every cast member from the former teen drama was in attendance to cause a bit of mayhem in the hallways, including Cassie Steele, Andrea Lewis, Nina Dobrev, A.J. Saudin and even Ephraim Ellis., "The Quick Read: London Breed Becomes First African-American Woman To Be Elected San Francisco Mayor," 14 June 2018 How do the sounds in France and in Morocco compare to the mayhem of NY? Carmen Rosy Hall, Vogue, "Before Bed: The Wing’s Curator Falls Asleep to Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Dreams of Rearranging Art," 15 May 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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Statistics for mayhem

Last Updated

17 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for mayhem

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).


occurring twice a year or every two years

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