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From Middle English whirlen, contracted from earlier *whervelen, possibly from Old English *hweorflian, frequentative form of Old English hweorfan (to turn), itself from Proto-Germanic *hwerbaną (turn); or perhaps from Old Norse hvirfla (to go round, spin). Cognate with Dutch wervelen (to whirl, swirl), German wirbeln (to whirl, swirl), Danish hvirvle (to whirl), Swedish virvla (older spelling hvirfla), Albanian vorbull (a whirl). Related to whirr and wharve.


  • (UK) IPA(key): /wɜːl/ or IPA(key): /ʍɜːl/ (some Welsh and English accents)
  • (US) enPR: wûrl, IPA(key): /wɝl/ or enPR: hwûrl, IPA(key): /ʍɝl/ (some Welsh and English accents)
  • (Scotland, Ireland) IPA(key): /ʍɪɾ(ə̯)l/
  • (file)

Rhymes: -ɜː(r)l


whirl (third-person singular simple present whirls, present participle whirling, simple past and past participle whirled)

  1. (intransitive) To rotate, revolve, spin or turn rapidly.
    The dancer whirled across the stage, stopped, and whirled around to face the audience.
    • (Can we date this quote by John Dryden and provide title, author’s full name, and other details?)
      He whirls his sword around without delay.
    • 1900, L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
      The house whirled around two or three times and rose slowly through the air. Dorothy felt as if she were going up in a balloon.
  2. (intransitive) To have a sensation of spinning or reeling.
    My head is whirling after all that drink.
  3. (transitive) To make something or someone whirl.
    The dancer whirled his partner round on her toes.
  4. (transitive) To remove or carry quickly with, or as with, a revolving motion; to snatch.



whirl (plural whirls)

  1. An act of whirling.
    She gave the top a whirl and it spun across the floor.
  2. Something that whirls.
  3. A confused tumult.
  4. A rapid series of events.
    My life is one social whirl.
  5. Dizziness or giddiness.
    My mind was in a whirl.
  6. (informal) (usually following “give”) A brief experiment or trial.
    OK, let's give it a whirl.

Derived terms[edit]