Definition of whorl in English:


Pronunciation: /wɔːl//wəːl/


  • 1A pattern of spirals or concentric circles.

    ‘Shelley drew larger and larger dark whorls on her notepad’
    • ‘Each involves bending or turning rolls of ink-soaked paper into themselves, creating folds or whorls of curved forms.’
    • ‘Women had long hair, but marriageable girls wore their hair twisted up into large whorls on either side of their heads.’
    • ‘Jordan stared up at his ceiling, contemplating dust whorls.’
    • ‘These creases are in turn overlaid by circles and whorls of black thread stitching.’
    • ‘The whorl of concentric circles behind them could represent Hollywood or heaven.’
    • ‘For him it is the sanctum housing a god: a speckled marble, with galactic whorls of light in its core.’
    • ‘A white archway, over which clung coiling whorls of the vines, gave passage through the hedge.’
    • ‘Along a stretch of one road someone has draped strings of little lights in loops and whorls on a line of trees.’
    • ‘The great blue canvas of the Pacific was stained with pale brown tide lines, circles, whorls and blotches.’
    • ‘Benches of the same dark wood as the overlays, carved with simple whorls and curves, were pushed up against each wall flanking the doors.’
    loop, coil, hoop, ring, turn, curl, twirl, twist, spiral, helix, lap, tier, lock, convolution
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    1. 1.1Zoology Each of the turns or convolutions in the shell of a gastropod or ammonoid mollusc.
      • ‘The beautiful nautilus' shell is white to orange, with white stripes and a central, black whorl.’
      • ‘The shells are elongated spirals, with eight whorls and an estimated average aperture-to-length ratio of 28 percent.’
      • ‘Generally, soleniscid gastropods have smooth, orthostrophic early ontogenetic whorls and a tightly coiled initial whorl.’
      • ‘Up to 10 whorls were measured on each shell.’
      • ‘Analysis of the ecological reasons for the development of free whorls in modem gastropods may explain the reason for this condition in the Scoliostomatidae.’
      • ‘Our results indicate that warm temperatures and moderate to high productivity are associated with larger shells and wider whorls.’
      • ‘Pan and Erwin described Erwinispira jucunda and recognized that it has a larval shell of three whorls.’
      • ‘The strong lateral constriction at the beginning of the gerontic whorl is also a diagnostic shell feature of this subfamily.’
      • ‘The shells showed severe abrasion of the whorls, whereas their apertural margins were more resistant and were subjected to almost no abrasion.’
      • ‘However, the initial whorl of these gastropods is unknown and therefore it is unknown whether it is tightly or openly coiled.’
    2. 1.2Botany A set of leaves, flowers, or branches springing from the stem at the same level and encircling it.
      • ‘Pines normally produce whorls of lateral branches with no internodal buds along the stem.’
      • ‘The plant has woody stems, whorls of lance-shaped leaves, and long dense spikes of tubular-shaped light blue, purple, pink, or white flowers from which bees make wonderful honey.’
      • ‘Trillium species are characterized by a single trimerous flower subtended by a whorl of three leaves.’
      • ‘Thirty terminal shoot segments were harvested randomly from the last whorl of branches at the top of the trees.’
      • ‘Leaves were borne in spirals or whorls, probably on short shoots.’
    3. 1.3(in a flower) each of the sets of organs, especially the petals and sepals, arranged concentrically round the receptacle.
      • ‘Primordia of the corolla, androecium, and gynoecium arise in three successive whorls.’
      • ‘Around these reproductive organs is the perianth, usually consisting of an outer whorl of sepals and an inner whorl of petals.’
      • ‘Sepals and petals in the outer whorls are not sexual organs, but may serve to attract pollinators.’
      • ‘They may then deviate from a Fibonacci pattern and tend to form approximate whorls of three organs or have a somewhat irregular arrangement.’
      • ‘Floral organ identity genes control the identity of the organs in the four floral whorls - the sepals, petals, stamens, and carpels - and act downstream of the meristem identity loci.’
    4. 1.4A complete circle in a fingerprint.
      • ‘With an image size of 4 by 3 inches, it evokes the distinctive whorls of fingerprints as well as the terraced topography of a rugged landscape.’
      • ‘The wafers were sealed inside plastic bags and bore the whorls of the fingers that had pressed them.’
      • ‘The patterns of whorls, arches, and loops on the ends of the fingers are unique to each person, and virtually indelible since superficial burns, cuts, or abrasions do not alter them.’
      • ‘Fingerprints were lifted from the bottle's neck, but the ridge detail - the smudge that reveals the print's loops and whorls - was of lackluster quality.’
      • ‘The under-layer is now permeated by patterns of curving lines with a resemblance to the whorls of fingerprints.’
  • 2historical A small wheel or pulley in a spinning wheel, spinning machine, or spindle.

    • ‘The whorl is located at the bottom of the shaft and there is either a hook or a notch at the top of the shaft to catch the yarn.’
    • ‘A 2oz spindle with a 2 inch diameter whorl works for fine to medium thickness wool.’


[NO OBJECT]literary
  • Spiral or move in a twisted and convoluted fashion.

    • ‘In subsequent prints, the demurely phallic-shaped object gradually metastasizes into a whorling explosion.’
    • ‘Another external clue seems to be hair whorling anti-clockwise on the head, which is now also thought to indicate the presence of the ‘C’ gene.’
    • ‘Histologically, thick collagen bundles were seen, characteristically whorling around vessels in a fibrotic stroma.’
    • ‘This system means that people who have two copies of the 'D' gene will be right-handed (as well as having hair that whorls clockwise and a 'normal' brain configuration).’
    • ‘The big vertical Global Roses in Bloom is all luscious, tumbling, whorling brushwork comprising a rough circular mass of globular, grapelike clusters.’


Late Middle English (denoting a small flywheel): apparently a variant of whirl, influenced by Old English wharve ‘whorl of a spindle’.