wil·​li·​waw ˈwi-li-ˌwȯ How to pronounce williwaw (audio)
: a sudden violent gust of cold land air common along mountainous coasts of high latitudes
: a sudden violent wind
: a violent commotion

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How Should You Use williwaw?

In 1900, Captain Joshua Slocum described williwaws as "compressed gales of wind … that Boreas handed down over the hills in chunks." To unsuspecting sailors or pilots, such winds might seem to come out of nowhere—just like word williwaw did centuries ago. All anyone knows about the origin of the word is that it was first used by 19th-century writers to name fierce winds in the Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of South America. The writers were British, and indications are that they may have learned the word from British sailors and seal hunters. Where these sailors and hunters got the word, we cannot say.

Examples of williwaw in a Sentence

the surprise verdict of the jury created a wild williwaw as reporters rushed to file their stories a williwaw rose up seemingly out of nowhere and wreaked havoc with our campsite
Recent Examples on the Web The williwaw, a gale-force wind that came rolling down the mountain gathering speed, was depicted as a whorled cloud. Nancy Lord, Anchorage Daily News, 18 Sep. 2022 The dominant use of williwaw throughout the 19th century was in relation to storms around Cape Horn, including the Straits of Magellan. David Reamer, Anchorage Daily News, 4 Sep. 2022 The williwaw gusts swirled thick fog among transport ships off Attu Island, and the waiting infantrymen nervously mulled the name of their landing site: Massacre Bay. Alex Horton, Washington Post, 24 May 2018

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'williwaw.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


origin unknown

First Known Use

circa 1842, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of williwaw was circa 1842


Dictionary Entries Near williwaw

Cite this Entry

“Williwaw.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/williwaw. Accessed 28 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


wil·​li·​waw ˈwil-i-ˌwȯ How to pronounce williwaw (audio)
: a sudden violent gust of cold land air common along mountainous coasts of high latitudes
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