Mayhem Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

Mayhem is a very powerful adjective that has a lot of usability in the modern world. Here is what mayhem means, and how you can use it!

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If you ask anyone to describe the past few years, the odds are good that they wouldn’t use too many positive adjectives. In fact, they would probably use words like “chaos,” “terrible,” and “depressing.” If they know the English Language well enough, they might even use the word “mayhem.” 

Mayhem really is one of the best words to describe the last several years, but what does it mean? 

Mayhem as a term has evolved a lot over the past several centuries, but it has almost become antiquated in today’s world. Still, using the word mayhem can give you a sophisticated edge in your own vocabulary. It’s time to take this word out of underused word lists and put it back into the regular vocabulary of American English. 

This is what mayhem means, where the word comes from, and how to use it practically in a sentence. 

What Does Mayhem Mean? 

The most modern definition of mayhem is chaos, disorder, and damaging situations, typically of the violent type. In many cases, mayhem is used to describe conditions that are simply scary, confusing, and overwhelming.

Mayhem is often used to describe rioting, war, fighting, and other situations that most people would typically like to avoid. 

However, this is not the only definition of mayhem. Historically, mayhem described a particular type of criminal offense that involved the violent injury or maiming of a person. This was almost always done to incapacitate people and leave them defenseless to external attacks and robberies. While this still happens today, it is generally referenced under different terms like assault or battery. 

Examples of mayhem have been seen throughout history thanks to corrupt leaders who like to cause havoc. The English dictionary typically contains both of these definitions and will often help people to distinguish between these two meanings. 

A general rule of thumb is that if the use context seems to be pretty old, then it’s probably describing crime. If the use is newer (within the past several decades or centuries), the odds are fairly good that the word describes a chaotic situation. 

Where Does the Word Mayhem Come From? 

When it comes to etymology, the word mayhem has a long language history through many different anglo-norman and anglo-french dialects. 

The first place that the word is seen is in the Old French word mahaignier, which meant to wound, injure, mutilate, or to main. As time went on, the word was more specifically used to describe doing someone wrong and became the word mahaigne. From there, the word entered into many other languages within the anglo-norman world. 

The Germanic origin of the word is the Middle High German meidem, which means to avoid or shun someone. This word was combined back into Old French in the words mahaim and maihem, which meant to violently do bodily damage to someone. 

The word was transposed into Old Norse, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, and primarily Middle English. When it entered the English language, the word turned into the “mayhem” that we know today. 

How to Properly Use the Word Mayhem 

When learning how to use a word, it’s often helpful to look at synonyms for the word in a thesaurus. Here are some popular synonyms that are likely to help clear up mayhem’s definition: 

  • Chaos
  • Turmoil
  • Maelstrom
  • Anarchy
  • Violence
  • Havoc
  • Bedlam
  • Pandemonium
  • Disorder
  • Confusion
  • Riot
  • Disorganization
  • Destruction
  • Madness
  • Commotion
  • Disturbance

Essentially, the word mayhem describes situations and events that are overtly chaotic and uncontrollable. They generally make people feel ill at ease and can often be dangerous. If you are looking for a word that you can use to describe a situation that feels overtly disordered, confusing, and destructive, then mayhem is likely the right one for you. 

Example Sentences Using Mayhem

Another great way to learn how to use a word is by looking at example sentences. Here are some great examples and resources that can help you to better understand what this word means and how to use it! 

That one random house on the end of the street has so many parties that end up spilling out of doors, becoming mayhem for the whole neighborhood. 

The unabridged version of the biography had excruciating details on all of the mayhem and chaos in Mr. Gelding’s experiences in the war. 

I read a wiktionary article the other day that was so disorganized that it felt like mayhem just reading through it! 

Every time I ask anyone about the thrash metal festival that happened last week, they say that the whole thing was mayhem. 

Some people genuinely enjoy family gatherings, but it just turns into mayhem every time my family gets together. 


One of the best and most effective ways to advance in the world is to learn how to communicate effectively. That’s precisely why The Word Counter exists — to be a resource for people to learn more about the English language and how to use it. While dictionaries and encyclopedias might give you tons of basic information about something, the reality is that they don’t usually provide practical knowledge. 

If you want to learn how to use language to your advantage, take a few minutes to browse our blog! We’re constantly posting new articles so you can have the best time using language out in the world. Check out our latest posts right here


  1. Mayhem Synonyms | Collins English Thesaurus
  2. Mayhem Definition & Meaning |
  3. Mayhem – Definition, Meaning & Synonyms |