Alternative formsEdit


From Middle English mayme, mahaime, from Anglo-Norman mahaim (mutilation), from Old French mahaign (bodily harm, loss of limb), from Proto-Germanic *maidijaną (to cripple, injure) (compare Middle High German meidem, meiden (gelding), Old Norse meiða (to injure), Gothic 𐌼𐌰𐌹𐌳𐌾𐌰𐌽 (maidjan, to alter, falsify)),[1] from Proto-Indo-European *mey- (to change). More at mad. The original meaning referred to the crime of maiming, the other senses derived from this.

Another possible etymology derives the Old French from Provençal maganhar, composed of mal (evil) and ganhar (to obtain, receive) (compare with Spanish ganar and Italian gavagnare and guadagnare), so literally "to obtain, receive something evil).

The sense "chaos" may have arisen by popular misunderstanding of the common journalese expression "rioting and mayhem".


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mayhem (usually uncountable, plural mayhems)

  1. A state or situation of great confusion, disorder, trouble or destruction; chaos.
    What if the legendary hero Robin Hood had been born into the mayhem of the 20th century?
    In all the mayhem, some children were separated from their partners.
    She waded into the mayhem, elbowing between taller men to work her way to the front of the crowd.
    The clowns would dart into the crowd and pull another unsuspecting victim into the mayhem of the ring.
  2. Infliction of violent injury on a person or thing.
    The fighting dogs created mayhem in the flower beds.
  3. (law) The maiming of a person by depriving him of the use of any of his limbs which are necessary for defense or protection.
  4. (law) The crime of damaging things or harming people on purpose.



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  1. ^ Philip Babcock, ed., Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, s.v. "mayhem" (Springfield, Mass: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 1993.