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

The rally violence proved a costly debacle for leading figures such as white nationalist Richard Spencer and others who are fighting lawsuits. Sarah Rankin, The Seattle Times, "A year after deadly Virginia rally, wounds are still raw," 7 Aug. 2018 Naturally, Barr's bank account won't be the only one taking a hit from this latest debacle. Lauren Hubbard, Town & Country, "Here's How Much Roseanne Barr Stands to Lose From Her Racist Tweet Scandal," 29 May 2018 The stakes, as the Cambridge Analytica debacle makes clear, are high. Kai Keller, WIRED, "Data Protection Standards Need to Be Global," 29 Apr. 2018 Limited Pool Zames is a former hedge-fund trader who helped tidy up JPMorgan’s London Whale trading debacle., "Zames Sounded Out as Deutsche Bank CEO by Recruiters," 17 Apr. 2018 Flint’s water debacle began in 2014 when the city decided to tap the Flint River for its water supply instead of getting water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department in order to save money. Joe Difazio, Newsweek, "Flint, Michigan, Water Crisis Update: Government Spends Thousands Per Day for Bottled Water," 14 Mar. 2018 This might explain why YouTube’s Robert Kyncl went on the record a week later with Caspar, a YouTuber with 7.1 million subscribers, about the platform’s ongoing burnout debacle (among other things). Patricia Hernandez, The Verge, "YouTube is failing its creators," 21 Sep. 2018 Previously, since the announcement of the Cambridge Analytica debacle earlier this year, Facebook’s stock price had fallen but had, since, more than recovered. Cyrus Farivar, Ars Technica, "Facebook stock dives nearly 20% on warning of slow revenue growth," 25 July 2018 Scott Pruitt's latest debacle From our friends at the Short List: First there was Kirstjen Nielsen. USA TODAY, "OnPolitics Today: This GOP congressman allegedly ignored sexual abuse claims," 3 July 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

11 Dec 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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More from Merriam-Webster on debacle

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with debacle

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for 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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