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

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Other Words from paroxysm

paroxysmal \ ˌper-​ək-​ˈsiz-​məl How to pronounce paroxysmal (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 Immune System Gone Wrong When the paroxysms finally stopped, the man felt exhausted — as if all his energy had left with the contents of his digestive system. Lisa Sanders, New York Times, "His Immune System Went Out of Whack. The Usual Treatment Didn’t Work. Why?," 18 Mar. 2020 That plan to become a public company is in limbo as Airbnb’s revenue vanishes and the stock market endures stomach-churning paroxysms. Carolyn Said,, "Airbnb, hosts struggle as travel plunges," 28 Mar. 2020 As the spread of the pandemic accelerates by the day, even libertarians have begrudgingly accepted that heavy-handed government intervention will be necessary, and deficit hawks’ ongoing paroxysms over federal spending have all but evaporated. J.c. Pan, The New Republic, "Our Never-Ending Recession," 20 Mar. 2020 For the left, this is just the latest paroxysm of a dysfunctional and doomed capitalism. The Economist, "We all want to change the world Economics, demography and social media only partly explain the protests roiling so many countries today," 14 Nov. 2019 Yes, my son falls into paroxysms of despair over the feel of his socks. Nicole Graev Lipson, Washington Post, "How recognizing my child’s ‘tragic flaw’ made me a better parent," 28 Feb. 2020 Arthur, who has nothing to smile (let alone chuckle) about, suffers from a physical condition in which he is frequently racked by noisy, uncontrollable paroxysms of laughter, an affliction that feels almost cosmic in its cruelty. Los Angeles Times, "Review: Joaquin Phoenix puts on quite a show in ‘Joker.’ And the portrait of madness is both bleak and glib," 1 Oct. 2019 Michigan Saturday, noon ET, Fox Warning: the following statement could cause paroxysms of indignation among college football fans. Eddie Timanus, USA TODAY, "Five games in Week 14 that will impact the College Football Playoff race," 29 Nov. 2019 Some of its effects include rattling earthquakes, volcanic paroxysms, and submarine landslides, resulting in mega-tsunamis like the 2004 nightmare in Indonesia, which originated in the Java Trench, and the 2011 horror show in Japan. Susan Casey, Outside Online, "One Man's Wild Quest to Reach the Bottom of Every Ocean," 22 Oct. 2019

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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Time Traveler for paroxysm

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

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Last Updated

11 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Paroxysm.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for paroxysm


How to pronounce paroxysm (audio) How to pronounce paroxysm (audio)

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
formal : 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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