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 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 From the moment the signal is detected, everyone has up to 10 minutes to react before the paroxysm arrives. New York Times, "Life and Death on the Lighthouse of the Mediterranean," 18 Mar. 2021 The longstanding Indigenous communities that lived in the area were displaced and re-established after the massive 1912 eruption of the Novarupta, the largest volcanic paroxysm of the 20th century. Melissa Findley, National Geographic, "Destinations on the rise for 2021," 20 Nov. 2020 But there is also a 10 percent probability that the volcano will resume its normal programming for more than ten years following a paroxysm. Alex Fox, Smithsonian Magazine, "Watch This Recent Giant Eruption at Italy’s Stromboli Volcano," 18 Nov. 2020 But nothing prepared her for what happened on Aug. 26 in Inc., when its quarterly results ignited a paroxysm of buying that pushed the shares 26% higher in a day. Sarah Ponczek,, "Huge Swings in Options-Overrun Stocks Leave Manager Baffled," 5 Sep. 2020 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

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

6 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Paroxysm.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for paroxysm



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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