de·​ba·​cle | \dē-ˈbä-kəl, di-, -ˈba-; nonstandard ˈde-bə-kəl \
variants: or less commonly débâcle \ also  dā-​ˈbäk(lᵊ) \

Definition of debacle 

1a : a great disaster

b : a complete failure : fiasco

2 : a tumultuous breakup of ice in a river

3 : a violent disruption (as of an army) : rout

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The Origin of Debacle Is French

Debacle comes from the French noun débâcle, which comes from the verb débâcler, meaning "to clear," "to unbolt," or "to unbar." That verb is from Middle French desbacler, which joined the prefix des- (equivalent to our de-, meaning "to do the opposite of") with the verb "bacler" ("to block"). In its original uses, "debacle" meant a breaking up of ice, or the rush of ice or water that follows such an occurrence. Eventually, "debacle" was used also to mean "a violent, destructive flood." Naturally, such uses led to meanings such as "a breaking up," "collapse," and finally "disaster" or "fiasco."

Examples of debacle in a Sentence

What a debacle. Next thing he knew, one of the patients would turn up dead. — T. Coraghessan Boyle, The Road to Wellville, 1993 So what had been intended as an orderly hearing ended in a general debacle, for as soon as Fray Domingo saw his protector dragged toward the exit door, he leaped at the guards and began pummeling them. — James A. Michener, Texas, 1985 Savings themselves evaporate in the course of such a debacle and thus the very wherewithal for reversing and retrieving the situation is lost … — Jane Jacobs, Cities and the Wealth of Nations, 1984 After the debacle of his first novel, he had trouble getting a publisher for his next book. the financial debacle that was the stock market crash of 1929
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Recent Examples on the Web

Republicans want to avoid another runoff election and get the whole thing over with (and move past Farenthold) — but the field is crowded, and there’s a good chance this debacle won’t be over anytime soon. Jane Coaston, Vox, "Texas special election: the race to replace Blake Farenthold (for a few months)," 30 June 2018 Still, the Garland debacle is a testament to the perils of privileging norms and moderation over substance and base mobilization. Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "In Hindsight, Democrats Really Mishandled That Merrick Garland Thing," 26 June 2018 No one considered the hardline conservative Senator Sessions, who would through debacles of politics and personality cults, have dominion over the country’s legal system in just two years. Rafia Zakaria, The New Republic, "On Sending Women Home to Die," 18 June 2018 Facebook has continued gaining users since news of the Cambridge Analytica debacle broke, according to Zuckerberg, and so far there has been no evidence that advertisers are abandoning the social network. NBC News, "Facebook shared user data with select companies after cutting off others," 9 June 2018 Famous Name: Elvis Presley plaque is coming back to Indianapolis on 41st anniversary of final concert So what was the Secret Service doing during this debacle, that the 64-year-old president had to step in and play Mr. Incredible? Sarah Bahr, Indianapolis Star, "IndyStar cartoonist Gary Varvel illustrates Benjamin Harrison book," 3 July 2018 The White House went all-in for the governor in recent days, dispatching the president and the vice president to the state in an effort to prevent a political debacle. Time, "Henry McMaster, Backed by President Trump, Wins South Carolina Governor Primary," 28 June 2018 The White House went all-in for the governor in recent days, dispatching the president and the vice president to the state in an effort to prevent a political debacle. Meg Kinnard, The Seattle Times, "Trump-backed McMaster wins South Carolina governor primary," 26 June 2018 Chastened by a 2014 debacle when an expansion plan was vehemently opposed by the public, the museum... Julie V. Iovine, WSJ, "A Design for the Frick Forgoes Flash," 6 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'debacle.' 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 debacle

1802, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for debacle

French débâcle, from débâcler to clear, from Middle French desbacler, from des- de- + bacler to block, perhaps from Vulgar Latin *bacculare, from Latin baculum staff

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Statistics for debacle

Last Updated

30 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for debacle

The first known use of debacle was in 1802

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English Language Learners Definition of debacle

: a great disaster or complete failure

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Comments on debacle

What made you want to look up debacle? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to express warning or disapproval

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