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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from miasma

miasmal \ mī-​ˈaz-​məl How to pronounce miasma (audio) , mē-​ \ adjective
miasmatic \ ˌmī-​əz-​ˈma-​tik How to pronounce miasma (audio) , mē-​ \ adjective
miasmic \ mī-​ˈaz-​mik How to pronounce miasma (audio) , mē-​ \ adjective
miasmically \ mī-​ˈaz-​mi-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce miasma (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 13-digit figures swim before one’s eyes in a monetary miasma until the only number that matters is the number of beers in the refrigerator. Geoff Colvin, Fortune, "The overlooked report from the U.S. Treasury you should know about," 23 Apr. 2021 The nauseating, overpowering stink, or miasma, worried army surgeons and sanitary inspectors. Jonathan S. Jones, STAT, "Lessons learned — and forgotten — from the horrific epidemics of the U.S. Civil War," 18 Apr. 2021 Another 11 percent of the petrochemical miasma may waft in from the oceans, with dust from agricultural soils contributing the remaining five percent. Alex Fox, Smithsonian Magazine, "Airborne Microplastics ‘Now Spiral Around the Globe’," 15 Apr. 2021 Gomez spent a few weeks in a miasma of panic, then got to work. Jia Tolentino, Vogue, "Selena Gomez on Politics, Faith, and Making the Music of Her Career," 9 Mar. 2021 That looks like an early version of a respirator mask and surgical gown, but de Lorme devised the idea to protect not against germs, but against miasma – bad-smelling air which was believed, up until the 1800s, to be the source of diseases. Kiona N. Smith, Forbes, "A Look Behind The Plague Doctor Mask," 28 Feb. 2021 In the 19th century, the fear of outbreaks fueled new sanitation campaigns to rid cities of miasma. Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic, "We’re Just Rediscovering a 19th-Century Pandemic Strategy," 22 Feb. 2021 Von Pettenkofer and his localists believed that cholera was inhaled as a miasma, which arose from earth contaminated by sewage. Jeanne Lenzer, Scientific American, "The COVID Science Wars," 30 Nov. 2020 The Pinheiros River that runs through the heart of Sao Paulo makes its pollution known with a miasma that wafts across city streets, choking rich and poor alike. Star Tribune, "In Brazil's richest city, works to clean a filthy river," 23 Oct. 2020

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about miasma

Statistics for miasma

Last Updated

28 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Miasma.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/miasma. Accessed 18 May. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for miasma



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

Comments on miasma

What made you want to look up miasma? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Words Used by Nabokov Quiz

  • image1676440788
  • Choose the best definition or synonym for the word in bold: "There are some eructations that sound like cheers—at least, mine did." Lolita
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!