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

After the Firestone debacle, a new auto safety law was implemented in 2000 that included more money for NHTSA to hire more investigators, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2000. Jamie L. Lareau, Detroit Free Press, "Traffic safety agency says its critics are wrong about its lack of toughness," 22 July 2019 Here’s what the national media are saying about the Seahawks after that debacle. Seattle Times Sports Staff, The Seattle Times, "What the national media are saying about the Seahawks’ 0-2 start," 18 Sep. 2018 After the debacle at the G-7, experts fear Trump may be desperate for a real victory. Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, "After blowing up the G-7, Trump seeks peace with North Korea," 11 June 2018 Brexit overtones to the debacle In his Twitter comments Tuesday, Mr. Trump combined criticism of Darroch with a broadside at May, chiding the British leader for failing to get her Brexit deal with the European Union through Parliament. CBS News, "Sir Kim Darroch, U.K. Ambassador to U.S., resigns over leaked cables disparaging Trump," 10 July 2019 That said, there's unfinished business left behind after the debacle in Brazil in 2016, and with little time to fully prepare, a manager change between now and then could be quite jarring. Avi Creditor,, "What the Future Holds for USWNT's Roster Entering Olympics, 2023 Women's World Cup," 9 July 2019 The two-game debacle in London against the Yankees revealed a team that could no longer regulate its water levels to navigate the locks through a 162-game season. Alex Speier,, "Nate Eovaldi may be best bet for desperate Red Sox bullpen," 3 July 2019 But if so, Cohen surely stomached quite a bit before the debacle in Helsinki. Alex Ward, Vox, "Cohen’s lawyer claims the flip happened because of the Trump-Putin meeting," 22 Aug. 2018 The identity crisis that plagued Brazil after the 7-1 debacle against Germany in their own World Cup in 2014 is in the past. José Luis Sánchez Pando,, "World Cup Group E preview: Brazil out for the reconquest," 30 May 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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Last Updated

7 Aug 2019

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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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Britannica English: Translation of debacle for Arabic Speakers

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