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

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

Tate, Manson and the family’s stories ultimately do sync up with Rick and Cliff’s, and fiery mayhem ensues in a third act that fully embraces being a Tarantino film. Brian Truitt, USA TODAY, "Review: 'Once Upon A Time in Hollywood' is a fairy tale only Quentin Tarantino could tell," 23 July 2019 Outlined in previs, the calculated mayhem was a dance among stunt coordinator Rowley Irlam, special effects supervisor Sam Conway and visual effects. Daron James, Los Angeles Times, "How visual effects created the fiery chaos in ‘Game of Thrones’," 8 Aug. 2019 If auto mayhem isn’t your speed, set your sights on the Arlington County fair (Aug. 14-18), a more charming affair that draws massive crowds every year. Washington Post, "17 things to do in the D.C. area this weekend," 8 Aug. 2019 And then there’s murder, and mayhem, and all sorts of crazy fun that happens. Clark Collis,, "Stan Lee calls Jason Mewes a knucklehead in trailer for Madness in the Method," 12 July 2019 Surprisingly, a few lawmakers from the pro-Beijing camp said the government ought to accept some blame for the mayhem. Javier C. Hernández,, "China calls Hong Kong protesters who stormed legislature ‘extreme radicals’," 2 July 2019 Law-enforcement officials have said nearly 100 credible witnesses described the unauthorized flights at Gatwick, but at this point nobody has been charged for the mayhem during the pre-Christmas rush. Robert Wall, WSJ, "Counterdrone Technologies Face Slow Ramp-Up at Airports Globally," 2 Jan. 2019 Margarita mayhem is about to take over the city as Cinco de Mayo unfolds this Saturday. Grace Dickinson,, "Where to eat and drink on this Cinco de Mayo in Philadelphia," 2 May 2018 The villain behind all this mayhem is Thanos (Josh Brolin), a genocidal megalomaniac who likes to visit different planets and wipe out half the native population. Justin Chang,, "'Avengers: Infinity War': a rousing Marvel mash-up, or a truly epic tease?," 24 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

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Statistics for mayhem

Last Updated

3 Sep 2019

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Time Traveler for mayhem

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

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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 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

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More from Merriam-Webster on mayhem

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with mayhem

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for mayhem

Spanish Central: Translation of mayhem

Nglish: Translation of mayhem for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of mayhem for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about mayhem

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one from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

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