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

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 Not far in our future, San Diego is a perpetually burning wasteland, the Arctic has melted and Dag Calhoun, a partner at a lobbying firm called Apex Group, helps rich people get richer from catastrophe. New York Times, "Heart-Hammering Science Fiction and Fantasy Thrillers," 22 June 2018 So when the Great Recession hit in 2008, Chicago jazz singer Petra van Nuis took inspiration from the earlier economic catastrophe and decided music would be the best response. Howard Reich, chicagotribune.com, "Petra van Nuis celebrates the art of swing," 14 June 2018 Hence, Xerox is today a gradually melting iceberg, but far from a catastrophe. Shawn Tully, Fortune, "Paper Jam! How Carl Icahn And a Billionaire Partner Blocked Xerox’s Merger with Fujifilm," 21 May 2018 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

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

4 Feb 2019

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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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