par·​ox·​ysm | \ ˈper-ək-ˌsi-zəm How to pronounce paroxysm (audio) , ˈpa-rək- also pə-ˈräk- How to pronounce paroxysm (audio) \

Definition of paroxysm

1 : 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 seizure— Thomas Hardy
2 : a sudden violent emotion or action : outburst a paroxysm of rage a paroxysm of laughter

Other Words from paroxysm

paroxysmal \ ˌper-​ək-​ˈsiz-​məl How to pronounce paroxysm (audio) , ˌpa-​rək-​ also  pə-​ˌräk-​ \ adjective

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 When word got out last month that Angel’s Share might close after nearly 30 years, the city — or at least a very vocal slice that was devoted to artisanal cocktails — spun into a paroxysm of despair. New York Times, 8 Apr. 2022 Much better, the patient exclaimed, but then exploded into a paroxysm of coughing. New York Times, 16 Feb. 2022 The events themselves took a matter of minutes to unfold in a paroxysm of one-sided gunfire that snuffed out more than a dozen lives, each one of them a new martyr in Northern Ireland’s somber annals of loss. Alan Cowell,, 29 Jan. 2022 The events themselves took a matter of minutes to unfold in a paroxysm of one-sided gunfire that snuffed out more than a dozen lives, each one of them a new martyr in Northern Ireland’s somber annals of loss. New York Times, 29 Jan. 2022 If scientists can collect ash that was produced both prior to and during the paroxysm, the different chemical and textural features of both sets of particles will reveal the explosion’s trigger. Robin Andrews, Wired, 20 Jan. 2022 As these images played to a global audience riveted by the drama at the airport, the West, in a paroxysm of regret, opened its arms to Afghan refugees. New York Times, 10 Dec. 2021 Foreign leaders are wondering just how long the break from Trumpism will last and whether the nation that once stabilized the world will pitch it into a new paroxysm of populist nationalism if Trump is reelected in 2024. Stephen Collinson, CNN, 1 Nov. 2021 This, in turn, touched off a paroxysm of media takes about whether such confrontations broke the bounds of civility. Jason Linkins, The New Republic, 9 Oct. 2021 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'paroxysm.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of paroxysm

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for paroxysm

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

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

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Last Updated

18 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Paroxysm.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for paroxysm


par·​ox·​ysm | \ ˈpar-ək-ˌsiz-əm also pə-ˈräk- \

Medical Definition of paroxysm

1 : a sudden attack or spasm (as of a disease)
2 : a sudden recurrence of symptoms or an intensification of existing symptoms pain occurred in frequent paroxysmsTherapeutic Notes

More from Merriam-Webster on paroxysm

Nglish: Translation of paroxysm for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of paroxysm for Arabic Speakers


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