If you’re flying a plane, and your engine stalls out, and you fall helplessly, with the tail of your plane spinning around, that’s a tailspin:
More generally, a tailspin is a quick, helpless fall into a bad situation.
Part of speech:
Both a noun (the countable kind: “this tailspin,” “those tailspins“)
and a verb (the intransitive kind: “we were tailspinning into misery,” “her career tailspun that year”).
tailspins, tailspun (or “tailspinned,” take your pick), tailspinning
How to use it:
Use this casual but powerful word to compare any failure to an airplane falling feebly from the sky.
Often we talk about someone’s tailspin into some terrible state: her tailspin into madness, his tailspin into poverty and obscurity, their tailspin into scandal and disgrace.
More specifically, we talk about someone (or something–like lives, ratings, reputations, companies, industries, or economies) going into a tailspin, falling into a tailspin, being in a tailspin, being sent into a tailspin, and so on.
“California’s once-proud recycling reputation is in a tailspin.”
— Lisa M. Krieger, Seattle Times, 8 April 2019
“The team was in a tailspin when Flacco was injured, and it appeared that Coach John Harbaugh’s job was in jeopardy.”
— Benjamin Hoffman, New York Times, 13 February 2019