mo·​rass mə-ˈras How to pronounce morass (audio)
: a situation that traps, confuses, or impedes
a legal morass
: an overwhelming or confusing mass or mixture
a morass of traffic jamsMary Roach
morassy adjective

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The Swampy History of Morass

We won't swamp you with details: morass comes from the Dutch word moeras, which itself derives from an Old French word, maresc, meaning “marsh.” Morass has been part of English for centuries, and in its earliest uses was a synonym of swamp or marsh. (That was the sense Robert Louis Stevenson used when he described Long John Silver emerging from “a low white vapour that had crawled during the night out of the morass” in Treasure Island.) Imagine walking through a thick, muddy swamp: it's easy to compare such slogging to an effort to extricate yourself from a sticky situation. By the mid-19th century, morass had gained a figurative sense, and could refer to any predicament that was as murky, confusing, or difficult to navigate as a literal swamp.

Examples of morass in a Sentence

advised against becoming involved in that country's civil war, warning that escape from that morass might prove nigh impossible the distracted driver had driven his car off the road and into a morass
Recent Examples on the Web Like other federal agencies, the F.D.A. can move glacially, at times hampered by antiquated rules and a morass of regulatory procedures. Christina Jewett, New York Times, 18 Sep. 2023 Instead, there’s the usual morass of ideas and agendas. Mustafa Suleyman, Fortune, 5 Sep. 2023 Since then, technological innovation seems to have regressed into a morass of cryptocurrency scams, new ways to invade personal privacy, and robotaxis that collide with emergency vehicles, block traffic and drive themselves into wet cement. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 23 Aug. 2023 The show takes on the poetic morass of feelings parents and children have for each other while oscillating between two challenging registers. Lili Loofbourow, Washington Post, 7 Sep. 2023 But are Americans too mired in the morass of our health-care system? Lauren Larson, Men's Health, 7 Sep. 2023 Meanwhile, a fast-urbanizing Japan was turning Moriyama’s once ideal Genji habitat into a toxic, pesticide-spiked morass in which few fireflies could survive. WIRED, 12 Aug. 2023 And since the beverages don’t contain alcohol, the regulatory morass for shipping wine doesn’t apply. Dave McIntyre, Washington Post, 10 Aug. 2023 But a new landmark study could lead the way out of this morass. Ali Martin, The Christian Science Monitor, 13 July 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'morass.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Dutch moeras, modification of Old French maresc, of Germanic origin; akin to Old English mersc marsh — more at marsh

First Known Use

1655, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of morass was in 1655


Dictionary Entries Near morass

Cite this Entry

“Morass.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


mo·​rass mə-ˈras How to pronounce morass (audio)
: a situation that traps, confuses, or hinders

More from Merriam-Webster on morass

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