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  1. a large, powerful, or violent whirlpool.
  2. a restless, disordered, or tumultuous state of affairs: the maelstrom of early morning traffic.
  3. (initial capital letter) a famous hazardous whirlpool off the NW coast of Norway.
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Origin of maelstrom

1550–60 for def 3; < early Dutch maelstroom, now spelling maalstroom, representing mal(en) to grind + stroom stream. See meal2, stream

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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for maelstrom

turbulence, chaos, turmoil, vortex, flap, confusion, bedlam, pandemonium, uproar, disorder, fuss, whirl, undertow, undercurrent, eddy, swirl, stir

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British Dictionary definitions for maelstrom


  1. a large powerful whirlpool
  2. any turbulent confusion
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Word Origin for maelstrom

C17: from obsolete Dutch maelstroom, from malen to grind, whirl round + stroom stream


  1. a strong tidal current in a restricted channel in the Lofoten Islands off the NW coast of Norway
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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for maelstrom


1680s (Hakluyt, 1560s, has Malestrand), name of a famous whirlpool off the northwest coast of Norway, from Danish malstrøm (1673), from older Dutch Maelstrom (modern maalstroom), literally "grinding-stream," from malen "to grind" (see meal) + stroom "stream" (see stream (n.)). The name was used by Dutch cartographers (e.g. Mercator, 1595). OED says perhaps originally from Færoic mal(u)streymur. Popularized as a synonym for "whirlpool" c.1841, the year of Poe's "A Descent into the Maelstrom."

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper