Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A violent or turbulent situation.
  • noun A whirlpool of extraordinary size or violence.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun A celebrated whirlpool or violent current in the Arctic ocean, near the western coast of Norway, between the islands Moskenäsö and Mosken, formerly supposed to suck in and destroy everything that approached it at any time, but now known not to be dangerous except under certain conditions.
  • noun Hence Any resistless movement; any influence or passion which makes victims of all who come within its power: as, the maelstrom of fashion or of speculation; the maelstrom of dissipation or of crime.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun A celebrated whirlpool on the coast of Norway.
  • noun An uncontrollable agitated or confusedly disordered state or situation.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun A large and violent whirlpool.
  • noun Any violent or turbulent situation.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun a powerful circular current of water (usually the result of conflicting tides)

Etymologies

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Obsolete Dutch : Dutch malen, to grind, whirl (from Middle Dutch; see melə- in Indo-European roots) + Dutch stroom, stream (from Middle Dutch; see sreu- in Indo-European roots).]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Old Dutch maelstrom, modern Dutch spelling maalstroom. → Danish malstrøm. → English maelstrom. Dutch malen ("to whirl, grind") is from Old Norse mala ("to grind"). Dutch stroom means stream. Compare German Mahlstrom.

Examples

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  • The president is about to escalate himself into a full-scale maelstrom.

    Joseph Duemer, Sharp Sand

    December 22, 2006

  • "in this cruel place your voice above the maelstrom" (Sisters of Mercy: "Marian")

    February 5, 2009

  • From p. 30 of Patrick Leigh Fermor's "A Time to Keep Silence":

    For my hosts, the Abbey was a springboard into eternity; for me a retiring place to write a book and spring more efficiently back into the maelstrom.

    January 21, 2014