catastrophe

noun
ca·​tas·​tro·​phe | \ kə-ˈta-strə-(ˌ)fē \
plural catastrophes

Definition of catastrophe

1 : a momentous tragic event ranging from extreme misfortune to utter overthrow or ruin Deforestation and erosion can lead to an ecological catastrophe.
2 : utter failure : fiasco the party was a catastrophe
3a : a violent and sudden change in a feature of the earth
b : a violent usually destructive natural event (such as a supernova)
4 : the final event of the dramatic action especially of a tragedy

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Other Words from catastrophe

catastrophic \ ˌka-​tə-​ˈsträ-​fik \ adjective
catastrophically \ ˌka-​tə-​ˈsträ-​fi-​k(ə-​)lē \ adverb

Did You Know?

When English speakers first borrowed the Greek word catastrophe in the 1500s, they used it for the conclusion or final event of a dramatic work, especially of a tragedy. By the early 1600s, "catastrophe" was being used more generally of any generally unhappy conclusion or disastrous or ruinous end. By the 18th century, "catastrophe" had come to denote truly devastating events, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Finally, it came to be applied to things that are only figuratively catastrophic - burnt dinners, lost luggage, really bad movies, etc.

Examples of catastrophe in a Sentence

The oil spill was an environmental catastrophe. Experts fear a humanitarian catastrophe if food isn't delivered to the refugees soon. an area on the brink of catastrophe
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Recent Examples on the Web

The problem came to be called the ultraviolet catastrophe, because the best theorem of the day predicted that objects heated to very high temperatures should spew infinite amounts of short-wavelength energy. Tim Folger, Discover Magazine, "How Quantum Mechanics Lets Us See, Smell and Touch," 24 Oct. 2018 The Queen of Versailles documents what happened after Siegel’s business hit the skids, and shows the kind of opulence and downfall that surrounded the catastrophe. Alissa Wilkinson, Vox, "5 movies that explain what caused the financial crisis, and what happened after," 14 Sep. 2018 Lyon, the director of Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services, is the highest-ranking official in the state to stand trial in connection with the catastrophe. Beth Mole, Ars Technica, "Flint water crisis: Michigan health director ordered to manslaughter trial," 21 Aug. 2018 JLT Re said global property catastrophe-reinsurance prices for contracts that renewed Jan. 1 slipped 1.2%. Nicole Friedman, WSJ, "Insurers Push Back Against Paying More for Their Own Insurance," 2 Jan. 2019 This is not a country on the brink of a catastrophe. Brian Rohan, The Seattle Times, "Expectations low as Yemen’s warring parties meet for talks," 4 Dec. 2018 So, despite the 40% selloff in the past month, the chances of catastrophe at the largely industrial GE are much less likely. Spencer Jakab, WSJ, "The Case for Buying GE (Yes, Really)," 21 Nov. 2018 In some ways, Russian interference in 2016 was a version of the catastrophe these security engineers had predicted. Benjamin Wofford, Vox, "The midterms are already hacked. You just don’t know it yet.," 25 Oct. 2018 But around 1588, the bottom of Lake Huila holds evidence of a catastrophe. Kiona N. Smith, Ars Technica, "Supposedly pristine South American forest had been pre-Columbian farmland," 17 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'catastrophe.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of catastrophe

1540, in the meaning defined at sense 4

History and Etymology for catastrophe

Greek katastrophē, from katastrephein to overturn, from kata- + strephein to turn

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Last Updated

21 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for catastrophe

The first known use of catastrophe was in 1540

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More Definitions for catastrophe

catastrophe

noun

English Language Learners Definition of catastrophe

: a terrible disaster

catastrophe

noun
ca·​tas·​tro·​phe | \ kə-ˈta-strə-fē \

Kids Definition of catastrophe

1 : a sudden disaster The oil spill was an environmental catastrophe.
2 : complete failure : fiasco The party was a catastrophe.

catastrophe

noun
ca·​tas·​tro·​phe | \ kə-ˈtas-trə-fē \

Medical Definition of catastrophe

: death (as from an inexplicable cause) before, during, or after an operation

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