mo·​rass mə-ˈras How to pronounce morass (audio)
: a situation that traps, confuses, or impedes
a legal morass
: an overwhelming or confusing mass or mixture
a morass of traffic jamsMary Roach
morassy adjective

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The Swampy History of Morass

We won't swamp you with details: morass comes from the Dutch word moeras, which itself derives from an Old French word, maresc, meaning “marsh.” Morass has been part of English for centuries, and in its earliest uses was a synonym of swamp or marsh. (That was the sense Robert Louis Stevenson used when he described Long John Silver emerging from “a low white vapour that had crawled during the night out of the morass” in Treasure Island.) Imagine walking through a thick, muddy swamp: it's easy to compare such slogging to an effort to extricate yourself from a sticky situation. By the mid-19th century, morass had gained a figurative sense, and could refer to any predicament that was as murky, confusing, or difficult to navigate as a literal swamp.

Example Sentences

advised against becoming involved in that country's civil war, warning that escape from that morass might prove nigh impossible the distracted driver had driven his car off the road and into a morass
Recent Examples on the Web Those who resist the orders to cut their plants down can encounter a morass of fines and legal threats. Ellen Airhart, WIRED, 25 Feb. 2023 The non-debate showed that none of the nine candidates is likely to lead Chicago out of its current morass of heavy crime, high taxation and the consequent loss of business and population. Joseph Epstein, WSJ, 6 Feb. 2023 In reaching a deal, the two countries extricated themselves from a diplomatic morass that had consumed the attention of Western officials for weeks and exposed divisions between Ukraine’s allies. Eric Nagourney, New York Times, 25 Jan. 2023 Observers attempted to send messages warning of the increasing danger by way of telegraph and by riders on horseback, who were able to reach Johnstown despite the morass of mud and flooding affecting almost the entire route. Popular Mechanics, 12 Jan. 2023 The tax credit was already a confusing morass of eligibility requirements and sourcing provisions, as well as income caps, sticker price requirements, and battery and supply chain limitations. Andrew J. Hawkins, The Verge, 25 Jan. 2023 Today's Google results are an increasingly useless morass of self-preferencing links to its own products, ads for products that aren't good enough to float to the top of the list on its own, and parasitic SEO junk piggybacking on the former. WIRED, 23 Jan. 2023 The result has been the battlefield morass in which his forces now find themselves. Ned Temko, The Christian Science Monitor, 17 Oct. 2022 The size and complexity of modern-day AI is frequently a morass that defies being perfectly predictable. Lance Eliot, Forbes, 25 July 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'morass.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Dutch moeras, modification of Old French maresc, of Germanic origin; akin to Old English mersc marsh — more at marsh

First Known Use

1655, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of morass was in 1655


Dictionary Entries Near morass

Cite this Entry

“Morass.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


mo·​rass mə-ˈras How to pronounce morass (audio)
: a situation that traps, confuses, or hinders

More from Merriam-Webster on morass

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