noun de·ba·cle \ dē-ˈbä-kəl , di- , -ˈba- ; nonstandard ˈde-bə-kəl \
variants: or less commonly débâcle play \ also dā-ˈbäk(lᵊ)\
|Updated on: 12 Jun 2018

Definition of debacle

1 a : 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

debacle was our Word of the Day on 09/11/2010. Hear the podcast!

Examples of debacle in a Sentence

  1. What a debacle. Next thing he knew, one of the patients would turn up dead. —T. Coraghessan BoyleThe Road to Wellville1993
  2. 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. MichenerTexas1985
  3. Savings themselves evaporate in the course of such a debacle and thus the very wherewithal for reversing and retrieving the situation is lost … —Jane JacobsCities and the Wealth of Nations1984
  4. After the debacle of his first novel, he had trouble getting a publisher for his next book.

  5. the financial debacle that was the stock market crash of 1929

Recent Examples of debacle from the Web

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.

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."

Origin and Etymology of 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

DEBACLE Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of debacle for English Language Learners

  • : a great disaster or complete failure

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up debacle? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!


to pay off by making regular payments

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words for Summer: A Quiz

  • a-closeup-of-a-sunflower
  • Which of the following words means “of or relating to summer”?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!