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

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 Decades before America’s epic debacle in Vietnam, France had its own. Washington Post, "Karin Tanabe’s ‘A Hundred Suns’ is a cinematic historical novel set in French Indochina," 13 Apr. 2020 Perhaps the middle of a crisis isn’t the best time to haul out the guillotine, but the officials responsible for the testing debacle in the U.S. deserve to be sent to one forthwith. Nr Editors, National Review, "The Week," 2 Apr. 2020 But, politics watchers, citing the debacle in Iowa, aren’t necessarily counting on it. NBC News, "Trump tells Democratic voters in Nevada to 'be careful of Russia, Russia, Russia'," 22 Feb. 2020 This poll was conducted by Gallup’s World Poll between April 23 and May 23, meaning the recent debacle in Iowa was not reflected in the results. Madison Dibble, Washington Examiner, "Nearly 60% of people doubt honesty of elections: Poll," 13 Feb. 2020 But acquittal on two articles of impeachment, an economy that’s certainly not in recession, a stock market bumping up against all-time records and the Democrats’ debacle in Iowa and blood feud in New Hampshire have reinvigorated Trump Republicans. Arnessa Garrett, Dallas News, "Concerns about Sanders’ socialism, Trump impeachment trial winners, church shooting drills, lawsuit over Dallas park plan," 11 Feb. 2020 The party had a political hangover from the debacle Monday night in Iowa, whose kickoff caucuses ended in delays, fury and mockery from Republicans. Laurie Kellman, Anchorage Daily News, "Impeachment done, Pelosi unburdens herself about Trump," 6 Feb. 2020 And the defense has let the Vikings down plenty since that 2017 NFC Championship Game debacle in Philly. Bob Sansevere, Twin Cities, "Bob Sansevere: Vikings end season with a yawn, rest up for next week’s playoff opener," 29 Dec. 2019 The debacle in Sun Devil Stadium ended any chance Oregon had of reaching the College Football Playoff. oregonlive, "Which team wins next weekend’s anti-climactic Civil War game? Issues & Answers," 24 Nov. 2019

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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Time Traveler for debacle

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The first known use of debacle was in 1802

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Last Updated

28 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Debacle.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for debacle


How to pronounce debacle (audio) How to pronounce debacle (audio) How to pronounce debacle (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of debacle

: a great disaster or complete failure

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More from Merriam-Webster on debacle

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for debacle

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with debacle

Spanish Central: Translation of debacle

Nglish: Translation of debacle for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of debacle for Arabic Speakers

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