Word: maelstrom

Pronunciation: MAYL-strahm / MAYL-strəm

Part of Speech: noun


  1. a powerful whirlpool in the sea or a river
  2. a situation or state of confused movement or violent turmoil

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Have you ever been to Epcot at Walt Disney World? My family and I used to go there all the time when I was a kid, and the World Showcase was by far my favorite feature of the park. Each country pavilion had its own major attraction, and the one in Norway – before being closed in October 2014 for renovation into a Frozen-themed attraction – was a dark boat ride based on Norse legend, which for its many turns and drops was appropriately named “Maelstrom”.

A “maelstrom” is a sea or river whirlpool of tremendous power. As a metaphor, it indicates a state of great confusion or turmoil. The word is of modern Dutch origin, having arisen in the late 17th century to refer to a mythical whirlpool said to exist west of Norway in the Arctic Ocean. This noun is comprised of the verb malen “to grind” and the noun stroom “stream”.

I think my favorite thing about the word “maelstrom” is how foreign it sounds compared to the rest of my vocabulary. Most of the words I feature in my Word of the Week segment come from Latin or Greek, so it’s refreshing to learn a Germanic word from time to time. Coupled with its association with the ocean and its dual literal and metaphorical definitions, “maelstrom” may be one of the most interesting words I’ve come across yet! If you write tales of the sea or tend to put your characters through chaotic situations, you’re sure to find an excellent place for a “maelstrom” in your stories! Good luck!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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