catastrophe

noun
ca·​tas·​tro·​phe | \ kə-ˈta-strə-(ˌ)fē How to pronounce catastrophe (audio) \
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 How to pronounce catastrophic (audio) \ adjective
catastrophically \ ˌka-​tə-​ˈsträ-​fi-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce catastrophically (audio) \ 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 22-page memo from the Office of Legal Counsel says the president acted within his legal authority as commander-in-chief to protect vital national interests — stopping the spread of chemical weapons and preventing a humanitarian catastrophe. Gregory Korte, USA TODAY, "Trump lawyers: Syria missile strikes were legal because they weren't 'war'," 1 June 2018 Some are already asking questions about whether enough was done after the last flood to prevent a similar catastrophe. CBS News, "Man missing after "1,000-year flood" ravages Ellicott City for 2nd time in two years," 28 May 2018 Thankfully, the pilot was able to pull the nose up at the last moment, which prevented a catastrophe and saved all on board. Della Trumble, WSJ, "The Government Shouldn’t Value Bears Over People," 13 Apr. 2018 As the mutated beasts embark on a path of destruction, Okoye teams up with a discredited genetic engineer and the military to secure an antidote and prevent a global catastrophe. Denisa Protani, baltimoresun.com, "Advance screening of RAMPAGE in IMAX April 10th at AMC White Marsh," 21 Mar. 2018 Part of the problem for any majority party in reading the tea leaves of electoral catastrophe is that most incumbents will be re-elected. NBC News, "Is Paul Ryan's departure a disaster for House Republicans?," 13 Apr. 2018 The Air Canada pilots abandoned the landing and pulled their plane up just in time to avoid catastrophe. David Koenig, The Seattle Times, "NTSB faults Air Canada pilots for last year’s near disaster," 25 Sep. 2018 On most productions, the studio takes out an insurance policy to cover its losses in the event of a catastrophe—a fire that destroys the set, for example, or the death of a primary cast member. Eleanor Hildebrandt, Popular Mechanics, "The True Story of the Lost Sci-Fi Movie "Brainstorm," Natalie Wood’s Last Film," 21 Dec. 2018 The authors say that their actions saved the United States and the world from catastrophe, but of course this claim cannot be tested. James Freeman, WSJ, "How Many Bank Bailouts Can America Withstand?," 18 Sep. 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

18 Mar 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 How to pronounce catastrophe (audio) \

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 How to pronounce catastrophe (audio) \

Medical Definition of catastrophe

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

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