mi·​as·​ma | \ mī-ˈaz-mə How to pronounce miasma (audio) , mē- \
plural miasmas also miasmata\ mī-​ˈaz-​mə-​tə How to pronounce miasmata (audio) , mē-​ \

Definition of miasma

1 : a vaporous exhalation formerly believed to cause disease also : a heavy vaporous emanation (see emanation sense 2) or atmosphere a miasma of tobacco smoke
2 : an influence or atmosphere that tends to deplete or corrupt freed from the miasma of poverty— Sir Arthur Bryant the enervating miasma of fearThe Times Literary Supplement (London) also : an atmosphere that obscures : fog

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Other Words from miasma

miasmal \ mī-​ˈaz-​məl How to pronounce miasmal (audio) , mē-​ \ adjective
miasmatic \ ˌmī-​əz-​ˈma-​tik How to pronounce miasmatic (audio) , mē-​ \ adjective
miasmic \ mī-​ˈaz-​mik How to pronounce miasmic (audio) , mē-​ \ adjective
miasmically \ mī-​ˈaz-​mi-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce miasmically (audio) , mē-​ \ adverb

Did You Know?

In notes taken during a voyage to South America on HMS Beagle in the 1830s, Charles Darwin described an illness that he believed was caused by "miasma" emanating from stagnant pools of water. For him, "miasma" had the same meaning that it did when it first appeared in English in the 1600s: an emanation of a vaporous disease-causing substance. ("Miasma," by the way, comes from Greek miainein, meaning "to pollute.") But while Darwin was at sea, broader applications of "miasma" were starting to spread. Nowadays, we know germs are the source of infection, so we're more likely to use the newer, more figurative sense of "miasma," which refers to something destructive or demoralizing that surrounds or permeates.

Examples of miasma in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The coronavirus acts like a miasma and a germ, all at once. Jill Lepore, The New Yorker, "Is Staying In Staying Safe?," 31 Aug. 2020 Faulkner’s white characters’ engagement with the world is dominated by a past shrouded in a miasma of bad faith — by nostalgia for a golden antebellum age and the Lost Cause. Michael Gorra, Star Tribune, "Review: 'The Saddest Words: William Faulkner's Civil War,' by Michael Gorra," 28 Aug. 2020 According to the miasma theory, scents were a matter of life and death. Katy Kelleher, Longreads, "The Ugly History of Beautiful Things: Lockets," 10 Aug. 2020 But there’s also never been a worse time to be surrounded by a miasma of particulate pollution that could trigger preexisting or new respiratory conditions. Sabrina Imbler, The Atlantic, "Saharan Dust Storms Are Giving Earth Life," 24 June 2020 The idea was so popular that the medical community believed miasma to be the cause of the Black Death, cholera, malaria, and other fatal illnesses. Erika Stalder, refinery29.com, "The Psychology Of Wearing Fragrance When No One Can Smell You," 23 June 2020 Given the miasma of paranoia that hangs over the late ’50s, there are plenty of possibilities thrown out for the unsettling incidents that start to happen in Cayuga: Soviet invasion, CIA interference, aliens visitors, teenage delusion. David Sims, The Atlantic, "The Vast of Night Kicks Off Our Strange Summer-Movie Season," 29 May 2020 There were scores of bars in rows on a steep rake and one called The Lost and Found: big orange letters on a shingle barely visible through the cheesy, slowly whorling miasma. Harry Dodge, Harper's Magazine, "Lost and Found," 30 Mar. 2020 As esoteric pieces become widely available via re-commerce, compliments on clothes from the Amazon miasma hold nihilistic cache. Katherine Bernard, New York Times, "My Algorithm Makeover," 15 Oct. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'miasma.' 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 miasma

1665, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for miasma

New Latin, from Greek, defilement, from miainein to pollute

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The first known use of miasma was in 1665

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Last Updated

6 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Miasma.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/miasma. Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for miasma


How to pronounce miasma (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of miasma

formal + literary : a heavy cloud of something unpleasant or unhealthy


mi·​as·​ma | \ mī-ˈaz-mə How to pronounce miasma (audio) , mē- How to pronounce miasma (audio) \
plural miasmas also miasmata\ -​mət-​ə How to pronounce miasmata (audio) \

Medical Definition of miasma

: a vaporous exhalation (as of a marshy region or of putrescent matter) formerly believed to cause disease (as malaria)

Other Words from miasma

miasmal \ -​məl How to pronounce miasmal (audio) \ adjective
miasmatic \ ˌmī-​əz-​ˈmat-​ik How to pronounce miasmatic (audio) \ adjective
miasmic \ mī-​ˈaz-​mik How to pronounce miasmic (audio) , mē-​ How to pronounce miasmic (audio) \ adjective

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