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From Middle English whirlen, contracted from earlier *whervelen, possibly from Old English *hweorflian, frequentative form of Old English hweorfan (to turn), itself from Proto-Germanic *hwerbaną (turn); or perhaps from Old Norse hvirfla (to go round, spin). Cognate with Dutch wervelen (to whirl, swirl), German wirbeln (to whirl, swirl), Danish hvirvle (to whirl), Swedish virvla (older spelling hvirfla), Albanian vorbull (a whirl). Related to whirr and wharve.


  • (UK) IPA(key): /wɜːl/ or IPA(key): /ʍɜːl/ (some Welsh and English accents)
  • (US) enPR: wûrl, IPA(key): /wɝl/ or enPR: hwûrl, IPA(key): /ʍɝl/ (some Welsh and English accents)
  • (Scotland, Ireland) IPA(key): /ʍɪɾ(ə̯)l/
  • (file)

Rhymes: -ɜː(r)l


whirl (third-person singular simple present whirls, present participle whirling, simple past and past participle whirled)

  1. (intransitive) To rotate, revolve, spin or turn rapidly.
    The dancer whirled across the stage, stopped, and whirled around to face the audience.
  2. (intransitive) To have a sensation of spinning or reeling.
    My head is whirling after all that drink.
  3. (transitive) To make something or someone whirl.
    The dancer whirled his partner round on her toes.
  4. (transitive) To remove or carry quickly with, or as with, a revolving motion; to snatch.
    • (Can we date this quote?) John Milton
      See, see the chariot, and those rushing wheels, / That whirled the prophet up at Chebar flood.
    • (Can we date this quote?) Alfred Tennyson
      The passionate heart of the poet is whirl'd into folly.



whirl (plural whirls)

  1. An act of whirling.
    She gave the top a whirl and it spun across the floor.
  2. Something that whirls.
  3. A confused tumult.
  4. A rapid series of events.
    My life is one social whirl.
  5. Dizziness or giddiness.
    My mind was in a whirl.
  6. (informal) (usually following “give”) A brief experiment or trial.
    OK, let's give it a whirl.

Derived termsEdit