par·​ox·​ysm | \ˈper-ək-ˌsi-zəm, ˈpa-rək- also pə-ˈräk- \

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

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Other Words from paroxysm

paroxysmal \ˌper-​ək-​ˈsiz-​məl, 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

Several of Trump’s Executive-branch paroxysms — banning transgender people from the military, expelling 700,000 Dreamers — have been blocked by federal courts. Simon Van Zuylen-wood, Daily Intelligencer, "How Neil Gorsuch Became the Second-Most-Polarizing Man in Washington," 28 May 2018 The public greeted the news of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's pregnancy with paroxysms of glee, but apparently, no one is more excited than grandfather-to-be (for the fourth time!) Prince Charles. Julie Kosin, Harper's BAZAAR, "Prince Charles Is Really, Really Excited About Harry & Meghan's Baby News," 16 Oct. 2018 And in these early stages, both customers and analysts appear to see the delays as normal—and preferable to combustive paroxysm. Sarah Scoles, WIRED, "Never Prebook Your Return Flight From a Rocket Launch," 6 July 2018 The audience is naturally convulsed in hilarity that’s interrupted only by paroxysms of sympathy for a protagonist who doesn’t understand why life is withholding from him the happy ending everyone else in his circle seems to be enjoying. Charles Mcnulty,, "Say 'I do' to 'Significant Other,' the rare romantic comedy with depth to match the laughs," 13 Apr. 2018 Such reconciliation echoes more and more widely in Baghdad, where residents have survived the paroxysms of violence and want to choose another way. Scott Peterson, The Christian Science Monitor, "In Baghdad, a sense of home resurfaces a decade after ethnic cleansing," 2 May 2018 This alone would send many in-laws into paroxysms of joy. Amy Dickinson,, "Frisky neighbors need curtains," 19 Apr. 2018 This alone would send many in-laws into paroxysms of joy., "Couple don’t like the view from windows of naked neighbors," 17 Apr. 2018 The resulting paroxysm of an action sequence, one that would be easy to adapt to other movie genres, is novel and great. Jacqueline Detwiler, Popular Mechanics, "The Most Useful Podcast Ever: How to Shoot a Horror Film With a Robot Camera," 19 Oct. 2015

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.

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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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Last Updated

8 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for paroxysm

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

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English Language Learners Definition of paroxysm

medical : a sudden attack or increase of symptoms of a disease (such as pain, coughing, shaking, etc.) that often occurs again and again

: a sudden strong feeling or expression of emotion that cannot be controlled


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

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More from Merriam-Webster on paroxysm

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with paroxysm

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for paroxysm

Spanish Central: Translation of paroxysm

Nglish: Translation of paroxysm for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of paroxysm for Arabic Speakers

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