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 debacle (audio) , di-​ , -​ˈba-​ How to pronounce debacle (audio) ; also  dā-​ˈbäk(lᵊ) , -​ˈbä-​kəl , How to pronounce debacle (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 Since Khan’s first season as owner in 2012, no team has a worse record than the Jaguars (39-105), who until last year’s 1-15 debacle somehow never managed to be quite putrid enough to earn the No. 1 draft pick. New York Times, "Urban Meyer’s Renewal in Jacksonville," 26 Apr. 2021 This year, Archegos’s swap bets spectacularly collapsed, saddling the bank with a $4.7 billion writedown, and setting it up as the biggest loser to emerge from the debacle at Bill Hwang’s family office. Marion Halftermeyer, Fortune, "Credit Suisse’s risk chief was also the chief sales person before Archegos collapsed," 22 Apr. 2021 Still, the entire debacle nearly came unraveled after Anchorage police soon pulled the car over. David Reamer, Anchorage Daily News, "How a group of Anchorage teens hid a 1966 murder for years — until one of them tried to become a police officer," 18 Apr. 2021 Nelson struck him out to avoid a debacle before Corey Knebel logged a perfect ninth inning for his first save as a Dodger. Los Angeles Times, "Julio Urías continues where he left off in World Series by dominating the Rockies," 4 Apr. 2021 The vaccine’s botched political deployment is a breathtaking policy failure that adds another sad chapter to the biggest public policy debacle of my lifetime. Art Carden, Forbes, "There Are Libertarians In A Pandemic, And For Good Reason," 28 Feb. 2021 In Minnesota, where the temperature dropped below minus-20 degrees in February and scarcely a single customer lost gas or electricity, state officials are struggling to come up with an equitable solution to a debacle made in Texas. Washington Post, "Minnesota gasps at the financial damage it faces from the Texas freeze," 21 Feb. 2021 But outgoing City Councilman Scott Sherman recently pointed to the Ash Street debacle as an argument against the city creating a municipal utility. Rob Nikolewski, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Supporters of a city-run utility chide Faulconer’s plan for electric and gas agreement," 25 Sep. 2020 The Greensill debacle marked a disastrous start to the year for the lender, which also slumped to a 4.4 billion franc ($4.8 billion) first-quarter trading loss related to the implosion of hedge fund Archegos Capital Management. Christiaan Hetzner, Fortune, "Credit Suisse recovers some assets linked to Greensill, but fate of $4.6 billion remains uncertain," 13 Apr. 2021

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

29 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Debacle.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for debacle



English Language Learners Definition of debacle

: a great disaster or complete failure

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