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Etymology 1


From Middle English whirlen, contracted from earlier *whirvelen, *whervelen, possibly from Old English *hwyrflian, *hweorflian (attested in hwirflung, hwerflung (change, vicissitude)), frequentative form of Old English hweorfan (to turn), itself from Proto-West Germanic *hwerban, from Proto-Germanic *hwerbaną (to 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.



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.
  2. (intransitive) To have a sensation of spinning or reeling.
    My head is whirling after all that drink.
    • 1861, E. J. Guerin, Mountain Charley, page 13:
      My brained [sic] whirled as he went on, but yet there was a fearful impression that the worst was not told.
  3. (transitive) To make something or someone whirl.
    The dancer whirled his partner round on her toes.
    • 1697, Virgil, “(please specify the book number)”, in John Dryden, transl., The Works of Virgil: Containing His Pastorals, Georgics, and Æneis. [], London: [] Jacob Tonson, [], →OCLC:
      He whirls his sword around without delay.
  4. (transitive) To remove or carry quickly with, or as with, a revolving motion; to snatch.

Etymology 2


From Middle English whirl, wherwille, whorwhil, wervel, from Old English hwirfel, hwyrfel (whirlpool), from Proto-West Germanic *hwirbil, from Proto-Germanic *hwirbilaz, *hwarbilaz (swirl, whirl, whirlpool), equivalent to wharve +‎ -el; and also Old Norse hvirfill (ring, circle, crown), whence Danish hvirvel (cowlick), Dutch werveling (whirling, vortex), German Low German Warvel (whirl, whirlpool), German Wirbel (whirl, whirlpool).



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