par·​ox·​ysm ˈper-ək-ˌsi-zəm How to pronounce paroxysm (audio)
pə-ˈräk- How to pronounce paroxysm (audio)
: a fit, attack, or sudden increase or recurrence of symptoms (as of a disease) : convulsion
a paroxysm of coughing
convulsed … in the paroxysms of an epileptic seizureThomas Hardy
: a sudden violent emotion or action : outburst
a paroxysm of rage
a paroxysm of laughter
ˌper-ək-ˈsiz-məl How to pronounce paroxysm (audio)
 also  pə-ˌräk-

Did you know?

Paroxysm didn't just burst onto the scene recently; its roots go back to ancient Greek. The word ultimately derives from the Greek paroxynein, which means "to stimulate." Oxynein, a parent of paroxynein, means "to provoke" or "to sharpen" and comes from oxys, a Greek word for "sharp." (That root also underlies the word oxygen.) In its earliest known English uses in the 15th century, paroxysm denoted agitation or intensification of a disease or its symptoms. (A still-used example of that sense is "a paroxysm of coughing.") Additionally, paroxysm soon took on a broader sense referring to an outburst, especially a dramatic physical or emotional one.

Examples of paroxysm in a Sentence

He went into paroxysms of laughter. a paroxysm of laughter greeted the pratfall
Recent Examples on the Web Hamas’s big breakthrough was the paroxysm of violence during the second intifada after the diplomatic crisis caused by the failure of the Camp David summit in the summer of 2000. Hussein Ibish, The New Republic, 1 Nov. 2023 But the paroxysm convulsing the country in its 75th year is wholly internal. Karl Vick, Time, 27 July 2023 Though many associate the Freedom Caucus with the legislative paroxysms of the Tea Party era, the group was not founded until 2015, long after the 2011 debt crisis and 2013 government shutdown. Molly Ball, Time, 18 July 2023 Some of these moments have been captured on video, as things tend to be during a presidential campaign: DeSantis struggling to make small talk with voters; bursting into strange paroxysms of wide-mouthed laughter; appearing to sugar-shame a child drinking an Icee at an Iowa fair. Ben Terris, Washington Post, 17 Aug. 2023 Even with all that intensity of eruption, the paroxysm was over in only 50 minutes. Erik Klemetti, Discover Magazine, 3 Dec. 2015 Chinese Indonesians have suffered from waves of persecution in Indonesia, including murderous paroxysms in the 1960s and 1990s. Hannah Beech, New York Times, 30 June 2023 No matter the magmatic source, Etna’s recent explosive vim and vigor—with more paroxysms in the last 25 years than the preceding 300—has made one thing clear: The volcano has much more firepower in store. Maya Wei-Haas, Smithsonian Magazine, 16 June 2023 Beautiful language brought on fevers, music showered paroxysms of ecstasy and despair upon her head, mediocre television left her colder than a rock floating in space. Hannah Gold, Harper's Magazine, 11 Oct. 2022 See More

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

Word History


Middle English paroxism, from Medieval Latin paroxysmus, from Greek paroxysmos, from paroxynein to stimulate, from para- + oxynein to provoke, from oxys sharp — more at oxygen

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of paroxysm was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near paroxysm

Cite this Entry

“Paroxysm.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


par·​ox·​ysm ˈpar-ək-ˌsiz-əm How to pronounce paroxysm (audio)
: a fit, attack, or sudden increase of symptoms (as of a disease) that occurs, quiets down, and occurs again and again
a paroxysm of coughing
: a sudden violent emotion or action
paroxysms of rage

Medical Definition


ˈpar-ək-ˌsiz-əm also pə-ˈräk-
: a sudden attack or spasm (as of a disease)
: a sudden recurrence of symptoms or an intensification of existing symptoms
pain occurred in frequent paroxysmsTherapeutic Notes

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