1 a : willful and permanent deprivation of a bodily member resulting in the impairment of a person's fighting ability
b : willful and permanent crippling, mutilation, or disfigurement of any part of the body
2 : needless or willful damage or violence
Did You Know?
Legally speaking, mayhem refers to the gruesome crime of deliberately causing an injury that permanently disfigures another. The name derives via Middle English from the Anglo-French verb maheimer ("to maim") and is probably of Germanic origin; the English verb maim comes from the same ancestor. The disfigurement sense of mayhem first appeared in English in the 15th century. By the 19th century the word had come to mean any kind of violent behavior; nowadays, mayhem can be used to suggest any kind of chaos or disorder, as in "there was mayhem in the streets during the citywide blackout."
"Joe is not your average Joe. He is a contract killer…. The business is low-grade; payments are made with an envelope of cash stuffed above a ceiling tile, and, at the end of a hard night's mayhem, Joe returns to the small house that he shares with his elderly mother." — Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, 16 Apr. 2018
"We are very fortunate to live in a society with 911 responders, but they may not be able to get to victims in a crowded arena, or the police may have to block their entry because of ongoing mayhem." — USA Today, 1 Mar. 2018
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