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

The alcohols essentially shred the microbes' outer membranes, causing molecular mayhem and the germs’ innards to leak out. Beth Mole, Ars Technica, "Hospital superbugs are evolving to survive hand sanitizers," 5 Aug. 2018 Vydra first joined Watford on a season-long loan from Udinese in July 2012, netting a late winner on his debut for the club against Crystal Palace, sending the away end into mayhem., "Watford Should Look to Re-Sign Their Former Talisman and Championship Top Scorer This Summer," 21 May 2018 Is Eliza herself responsible for this real-life mayhem? Maureen Corrigan,, "'The Elizas' by Sara Shepard: No 'Pretty Little Liars,' in fact not much at all," 2 May 2018 There are generally three styles of walks here: historic, street theater and storytelling — all with engaging tales of history, violence and mayhem. Rick Steves' Europe, The Seattle Times, "Specialized tours enrich travel," 14 Nov. 2018 On Friday, as the city girded itself for another weekend of mayhem and bloodshed, a shooting left seven people hurt, including a 3-year-old boy. Barnini Chakraborty, Fox News, "Chicago 'peace picnic' turns violent: 3 people shot, another is beaten," 19 Aug. 2018 In the first race of his first full-time season with the rebuilding Richard Petty Motorsports team, Wallace drove through mayhem on a wild last lap and finished second to Austin Dillon in his sport’s biggest race. Mike Hembree, USA TODAY, "NASCAR's Bubba Wallace seeking reprise of stellar Daytona run," 6 July 2018 Once the major players are on the field, mayhem ensues, as some youngsters form tenuous alliances, while others try to figure out if there’s a way to subvert the system before their former friends stab, shoot, or poison them. Noel Murray, The Verge, "The First Purge’s release makes this a good weekend to watch Battle Royale on Netflix," 6 July 2018 Yet then everything started dissolving into mayhem. Martin Rogers, USA TODAY, "Cristiano Ronaldo's missed penalty costs Portugal – and could haunt it forever," 25 June 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

10 Dec 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.

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

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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