A storm wrapped in a whirlpool wrapped in a maelstrom

Here's a word that seems to trip a lot of writers up: maelstrom. It is frequently misspelled as maelstorm. I think this is sometimes unintentional,with the brain grabbing the more familiar word storm as the fingers fly across the keyboard. But I think there is also genuine misunderstanding of the word, and it's an understandable misunderstanding. The American Heritage Dictionary defines maelstrom as:

  • 1. A violent or turbulent situation: caught in the maelstrom of war.
  • 2. A whirlpool of extraordinary size or violence.

Maelstrom is almost always used in that first sense, and the idea of likening a violent, turbulent situation to a storm makes a lot of sense. But the word's roots are rooted to the second sense, which comes from Dutch.From the OED: "early modern Dutch maelstrom (obsolete, now maalstroom), meaning whirlpool, from malen, meaning to grind, to whirl round + stroom, meaning stream."