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

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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 And then that night is when this complete mayhem erupted. Luke Whelan, Outside Online, ""Cougar Guy" Tells the Story Behind His Viral Video," 15 Oct. 2020 Much, much mayhem follows, constructed in a way that allows those relationships to steadily grow -- including a sweet, awkward romance -- while delivering regular surprises and building suspense. Brian Lowry, CNN, "'Utopia' is about a fictional pandemic in the middle of a real one, as nerds try to save the world," 24 Sep. 2020 White nationalist Jason Kessler, the rally organizer, was seeking to join the Proud Boys but was ejected following the mayhem. Washington Post, "Who are the Proud Boys, the group Trump told to ‘stand back and stand by’?," 28 Sep. 2020 Biden and his enablers can’t decide whether the mayhem helps or hurts his candidacy. Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, "Silence About the Violence," 1 Sep. 2020 The editorial was published after another weekend of violence exploded in more than half a dozen U.S. cities Saturday night -- with the mayhem including damage to federal buildings, local police precincts, and a fatal shooting in Austin, Texas. Fox News, "Virginia newspaper calls out local leaders after Richmond riots: 'Enough is enough'," 30 July 2020 Compared to the southern and western US, Minnesota is in the minor leagues of weather mayhem. Paul Douglas, Star Tribune, "The Benefits Of Living So Close to Canada," 20 Sep. 2020 Here are some lessons that other countries can teach us in the age of Russian mayhem. Andy Greenberg, Wired, "The International Playbook for Foiling Russian Interference," 15 Sep. 2020 Natural disasters have added an extra layer of mayhem in a year that the country is already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. USA Today, "Go-bag guide: Preparing for a natural disaster during the COVID-19 pandemic," 14 Sep. 2020

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 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

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Time Traveler for mayhem

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for mayhem

Last Updated

20 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Mayhem.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 31 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for mayhem


How to pronounce mayhem (audio) How to pronounce mayhem (audio)

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 mayhemAssociated 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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