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 climate is changing in ways that carry the risk of catastrophe in the absence of radical action. The Economist, "Conservatism is fighting for its life against reactionary nationalism," 4 July 2019 Several things did go wrong, but the real drama lay in the gnawing anticipation of fatal catastrophe. Dallas News, "Books examine the courage and scientific know-how that propelled us to the moon," 1 July 2019 Whether a newfound commitment to safety will be enough to prevent the kind of catastrophe that played out an hour and a half north in Paradise, where 85 people died and 14,000 homes were lost in the Camp Fire, remains to be seen. Kurtis Alexander, SFChronicle.com, "Fearful of being the next Paradise, Grass Valley confronts its fire vulnerability," 30 June 2019 Indeed, the real risk of catastrophe—financial or political—is in countries where the Libra would be most useful. Matthew De Silva, Quartz, "Facebook’s crypto presents a massive privacy problem," 20 June 2019 The cost of an AI catastrophe would likewise be fully socialized. Rob Reid, Ars Technica, "Ars on your lunch break: The fate we might be making for ourselves," 18 June 2019 Amid gags — the scientist stabs a watermelon (Earth) — Wynn delves into reports warning of a catastrophe and the politics of climate-change deniers. Jeffrey Fleishman, latimes.com, "Transgender YouTube star ContraPoints tries to change alt-right minds," 12 June 2019 But in historical terms, the dimension of the catastrophe is staggering. New York Times, "The Day the Music Burned," 11 June 2019 What distinguishes Britishness is a calmness in the face of catastrophe — dutiful citizenship and rigorous debate, not tribalistic utopian triumphalism. Sahil Handa, National Review, "Reclaiming Britishness from the Brexit Debacle," 10 June 2019

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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Statistics for catastrophe

Last Updated

8 Jul 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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