1650s, "whirlpool, eddying mass," from Latin vortex, variant of vertex "an eddy of water, wind, or flame; whirlpool; whirlwind," from stem of vertere "to turn" (from PIE root *wer- (2) "to turn, bend"). Plural form is vortices. Became prominent in 17c. theories of astrophysics (by Descartes, etc.). In reference to human affairs, it is attested from 1761. Vorticism as a movement in British arts and literature is attested from 1914, coined by Ezra Pound. Related: Vortical; vorticist.