The Plural of Vortex: Here’s What It Is and How to Use It

The word of the day has some scary connotations.  Not only can using the word vortex properly be daunting because of how challenging it is grammatically, but the definition of vortex is a somewhat violent activity.  According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the vortex noun is “a mass of fluid (such as a liquid) with a whirling or circular motion that tends to form a cavity or vacuum in the center of the circle and to draw toward this cavity or vacuum bodies subject to its action,” and this is especially true when whatever whirling is in a visible column shape. Collins English Dictionary simplifies it a little into a vortex being ” a mass of wind or water that spins around so fast that it pulls objects down into its empty center.” In this article, let’s explore the proper use of the word vortex, how to pluralize it, look for its synonyms, and learn its context. 

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What is the plural form of vortex?

Plural vortexes? Nope! Plural vortices!

The plural of the word vortex is actually “vortices”.  Having one whirling mass of water is already a problem, but having multiple whirling masses of water is definitely going to cause lots of problems. 

While it may seem like the plural of vortex should just be vortexes, because that’s how we commonly make a plural in English, its plural form is actually rather irregular.  That is because of the word’s etymology, or its history.  English does a pretty good job of picking and choosing whatever it wants to borrow (or just completely steal) from other languages, and the word vortex is no exception.

We will explore the etymology further on in this article, but for now, let’s just say that the plural is so unique because it derives from the Latin vortex.  Just like many other nouns in English language, the plural can be the most difficult part to understand.  Many languages, like Latin, make pluralizing a word very simple with things like standardized noun declensions.  However, because English steals grammatical concepts from just about every other language, the pluralization of our words typically just derive from other languages as well.

For example, the plural of “box” is “boxes”, but the plural of “ox” is “oxen”, not “oxes”.  While box comes from the Latin and Greek, the word ox is actually derived from German and Dutch origins, which explains why its pluralization is so different.          

What’s another word for vortex?

მორევი. Well, in Georgian at least. 

But really, usually the word vortex is used in historical or nautical contexts, most notably in legends of the sea told by pirates, sailors, and adventurers.  It is also commonly found in literature–anything talking about a polar vortex, a mass of air (like in the context of a wingtip), swirling smoke rings, and really any kind of substance moving in a rotary motion is probably vortical in nature.  Some words that mean the same thing as vortex are gulf, maelstrom, or whirlpool.  One of the most famous stories from ancient mythology involving a whirlpool is the story of Odysseus trying to return to his homeland after the war between Greece and Troy, wherein one of his two ships was sucked down into the depths of the ocean and never seen again after it got caught in the middle of a massive vortex between two rocks.

No matter what word is chosen to describe this ocean phenomena, they all convey some level of dread, especially to sailors.    

The History and Origin of the Word

The history and etymology behind the word vortex go all the way back to ancient Latin.  The word actually stems from a verb, “vertere”, which means to turn or bend.  The word then became a noun, “vertex”, which is translated as an eddy of water, wind, or flame; a whirlpool.  The word vortex itself first gained popularity in academics when it was actually used by Descartes and others in astrophysics to describe the phenomena whereby water or wind (or any other gas or liquid) is spun around upon itself rapidly.  

Then, in the mid eighteenth century, it began to be used in political contexts, where the word vortex was used to describe the human condition.  It was a popular term used to paint a picture of turmoil, strife, and circular reasoning that seemed inherent in several of the manmade institutions of that day, namely the church and the state.  The eighteenth century was most certainly the birthplace to several conflicts which began to cause internal, circular turmoil that tore many of these institutions apart, including the results seen in America in the aftermath of the Seven Years War, the French and Indian War, and the buildup to the War for American Independence.    

Examples of Vortex in Context

The best way to understand how to use a word properly is to explore its context.  Being able to read or hear words used in example sentences their proper context enables you to understand how to incorporate them into your own vocabulary.

One of the most famous examples of the word vortex within literature is a poem by Ezra Pound, entitled Vortex, 

“  The vortex is the point of maximum energy.

         It represents, in mechanics, the greatest efficiency.

         We use the words “greatest efficiency” in the precise sense—as they would be used in a text book of MECHANICS.

         You may think of man as that toward which perception moves. You may think of him as the TOY of circumstance, as the plastic substance RECEIVING impressions.

         OR you may think of him as DIRECTING a certain fluid force against circumstance, as CONCEIVING instead of merely observing and reflecting.”

This work demonstrates the power inherent in a vortex and the potential for destruction that they have in nature.

Another, much more basic example of the word vortex in a sentence is just using it to describe a frightening nautical situation: “The sailors fought to keep the ship out of the vortex.”

An uncommon example is a theory in cartesian cosmology, where a vortex is what encircles all the planets and other systems of bodies in our universe. 

Synonyms for Vortex

Thesaurus time! Some very commonly used synonyms for vortex are:

  • Whirlpool, used to describe a specifically nautical environmental phenomena, rather than an airborne one
  • Maelstrom, an especially turbulent whirlpool that sucks things down into itself
  • Gulf, a deep chasm that bears the appearance of a vortex 

What vortex is not is a variant of vertex [ˈvɔːr.teks/ˈvɔːteks/ˈvɔr tɛks/ˈvɔːtɛks], plural vertices [ˈvɔr təˌsiz] which is a completely different word often confused with vortex, that has to do with with geometry. 

In Summary

Even though the word vortex describes a very scary, almost natural disaster scale event, it does not have to be daunting for you to use it in your vocabulary.  Now that you know its proper usage, pluralization, context, and history, you are well equipped to implement it into your own vocabulary!