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 In interviews with a dozen survivors across Rwanda in the two days preceding the commemoration on Sunday, many spoke about the paroxysm of violence that gripped this lush, landlocked nation. Abdi Latif Dahir, New York Times, 7 Apr. 2024 In the end, the edifice of peace that so many had labored so hard to construct was consumed in a paroxysm of violence as the Palestinians launched another, more intense uprising and the Israelis expanded their occupation of the West Bank. Martin Indyk, Foreign Affairs, 20 Feb. 2024 Thinking about my mother, at home without me, sent me into paroxysms of tears – big, rolling sobs that welled up from someplace deep and uncharted. Various Staff Writers, Special Correspondents, and Special Contributors, The Christian Science Monitor, 22 Dec. 2023 That paroxysm of ethnic cleansing and extrajudicial killings devolved into a gruesome civil war, trapping Tamil civilians in the violence. Audrey Kurth Cronin, Foreign Affairs, 15 Oct. 2023 Diana was just 36, and her death sent Britain into a paroxysm of grief at her loss and rage against the royal family. Sarah Lyall, New York Times, 13 Nov. 2023 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

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 21 Apr. 2024.

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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