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See also: maelström and maëlstrom



A 1919 illustration by Harry Clarke of a boat caught in a maelstrom (sense 1) for Edgar Allan Poe’s short story A Descent into the Maelström (1841).[n 1]

The word was originally the name of a giant whirlpool supposed to exist off the west coast of Norway in the Arctic Ocean which was said to destroy all ships that came close to it. It is borrowed from early modern Dutch maelstrom (whirlpool) (obsolete) (modern Dutch maalstroom), from malen (to whirl around; to grind) (ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *melh₂- (to crush, grind)) + stroom (stream; river; current or flow of water or other liquid) (ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *srew- (to flow, stream)),[1] and was popularized by Edgar Allen Poe’s short story A Descent into the Maelström (1841).


  • (Received Pronunciation) IPA(key): /ˈmeɪ.jəlˌstɹəm/, /-stɹɒm/
  • (General American) IPA(key): /ˈmeɪ.jəlˌstɹɔm/, /-ˌstɹəm/, /-ˌztɹɔm/, /-ˌztɹəm/, /ˈmælˌstɹəm/
  • (file)
  • Hyphenation: mael‧strom


maelstrom (plural maelstroms)

  1. A large and violent whirlpool.
  2. (figuratively) A chaotic or turbulent situation.
    • 1831, Thomas Carlyle, “Characteristics”, in Sartor Resartus: The Life and Opinions of Herr Teufelsdröckh. [], London: Chapman and Hall, [], →OCLC, book first, page 22:
      It was of Jean Paul's doing: some single billow in that vast World-Mahlstrom of Humour, with its heaven-kissing coruscations, which is now, alas, all congealed in the frost of death!
    • 1922, Harry Leon Wilson, “‘Five Reels—500 Laughs’”, in Merton of the Movies, Garden City, N.Y., Toronto, Ont.: Doubleday, Page & Company, →OCLC, page 310:
      He escaped at last, dizzy from the maelstrom of conflicting emotions that had caught and whirled him.
    • 2012, Andrew Martin, Underground Overground: A Passenger’s History of the Tube, London: Profile Books, →ISBN, page 80:
      The terminal station, Richmond, is managed by South West Trains, heirs to the London & South Western Railway, and here the District fades into a railway maelstrom, since Richmond is not only on the Waterloo-Reading line but is also the westerly terminus of the London Overground.
    • 2019 May 5, Danette Chavez, “Campaigns are Waged On and Off the Game Of Thrones Battlefield (Newbies)”, in The A.V. Club[1], archived from the original on 28 January 2021:
      Setting our sights back on King's Landing, where the Last War will be waged, makes a lot of sense, even if it does feel a bit anticlimactic after last week's deadly, blustery maelstrom.
    • 2020 August 5, Drachinifel, 19:53 from the start, in The Battle of Jutland - Clash of the Titans - Part 2 (Jellicoe vs Scheer)[2], archived from the original on 12 September 2022:
      Five, he has no idea what else could be out there. For example, if British doctrine was anything like his own, then even at this moment, dozens of British destroyers might be swarming towards him, about to envelop his forces in a maelstrom of torpedoes, and the first thing he'd know about it is when things start exploding! (Well, even more than they already are now.)

Alternative forms[edit]




  1. ^ maelstrom, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2020; “maelstrom, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

Further reading[edit]



Borrowed from French Maelström.


maelstrom n (plural maelstromuri)

  1. maelstrom