Pathology. a sudden, abnormal, involuntary muscular contraction, consisting of a continued muscular contraction (tonic spasm) or of a series of alternating muscular contractions and relaxations (clonic spasm).
any sudden, brief spell of great energy, activity, feeling, etc.

Origin of spasm

1350–1400; Middle English spasme < Latin spasmus < Greek spasmós convulsion, derivative of spân to draw a sword or cord, wrench (off), convulse

Synonyms for spasm Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for spasm

Contemporary Examples of spasm

  • A spasm of computer trouble yesterday delayed finishing some thoughts on Mitt Romney's USA Today op-ed about social safety nets.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Social Safety Nets for a Flat Earth

    David Frum

    September 20, 2012

  • For three straight days, a spasm of violence has gripped Cairo, leaving 13 people dead and scores wounded.

  • Essentially, this is no more than a spasm of mindless and brutal high summer destruction.

    The Daily Beast logo
    London Burns as Riots Spread

    William Underhill

    August 9, 2011

Historical Examples of spasm

  • Ma nearly had a spasm, but she liked the looks of things when we had finished.

  • The spasm of fear which crosses my heart summons it to my aid.

  • The eyes glowed with the fires of a man's heart in a spasm of hate.

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

  • After a time the spasm relaxed, but her condition remained alarming.


    Mary Roberts Rinehart

  • The spasm loosed beads of perspiration which stood cold on his forehead.


    W. A. Fraser

British Dictionary definitions for spasm



an involuntary muscular contraction, esp one resulting in cramp or convulsion
a sudden burst of activity, emotion, etc

Word Origin for spasm

C14: from Latin spasmus, from Greek spasmos a cramp, from span to tear
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 spasm

c.1400, from Old French spasme, from Latin spasmus "a spasm," from Greek spasmos "a spasm, convulsion," from span "draw up, tear away, contract violently, pull," from PIE *spe- "stretch." Figurative sense of "a sudden convulsion" (of emotion, politics, etc.) is attested from 1817.


1900, from spasm (n.). Related: Spasmed; spasming.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Medicine definitions for spasm




A sudden involuntary contraction of a muscle or group of muscles.
A muscle spasm.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.