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

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
Recent Examples on the Web In one of the best books written about the business of baseball, McCue shows how American League owners dropped the ball from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, including the debacle that led to Milwaukee getting the Brewers. Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 18 May 2022 Trust in government institutions is at an all-time low, with the 2020 pandemic as the latest debacle. Andrés Garcia, Baltimore Sun, 18 May 2022 Meanwhile, Russia’s debacle in Ukraine probably lowers the risk China will invade Taiwan anytime soon. Michael Cannivet, Forbes, 17 May 2022 While the entire debacle was captured in multiple videos shot by members of the audience, cellphone use was officially banned during the performance. Tucker Reals, CBS News, 4 May 2022 Last year’s early debacle notwithstanding, the 2022 Week 0 opener against Duquesne should allow the regulars to get in a good tune-up before the date with LSU kicks off the season in earnest. Eddie Timanus, USA TODAY, 28 Apr. 2022 It’s time for a premortem on the Democrats’ House debacle and very possible loss of Senate control. Daniel Henninger, WSJ, 27 Apr. 2022 My life and experiences are so much more than this gross debacle. Chris Willman, Variety, 16 Apr. 2022 An angry Putin, infuriated by the debacle in Ukraine, is reportedly also lashing out against his own advisers. Frida Ghitis, CNN, 14 Apr. 2022 See More

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.

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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The first known use of debacle was in 1802

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Last Updated

23 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Debacle.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 May. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on debacle

Nglish: Translation of debacle for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of debacle for Arabic Speakers


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