de·​ba·​cle dē-ˈbä-kəl How to pronounce debacle (audio)
-ˈba- How to pronounce debacle (audio)
ˈde-bə-kəl How to pronounce debacle (audio)
variants or less commonly débâcle
dē-ˈbä-kəl How to pronounce debacle (audio)
-ˈba- How to pronounce debacle (audio)
 also  dā-ˈbäk(lᵊ),
 How to pronounce debacle (audio)
: a great disaster
: a complete failure : fiasco
: a tumultuous breakup of ice in a river
: a violent disruption (as of an army) : rout

Did you know?

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 Dykes didn’t need to follow up the Georgia debacle with an unpopular hire. Kevin Sherrington, Dallas News, 13 Sep. 2023 The latest spate of hacks are a bad look for an industry trying to win back investor confidence after last year’s FTX debacle—and won’t endear it to the U.S. government, which is understandably concerned that crypto is bankrolling Kim Jong Un’s military. Jeff John Roberts, Fortune Crypto, 11 Sep. 2023 Have the Maryland diocese and the church learned the right lessons from the Heather Cook debacle? Jonathan M. Pitts, Baltimore Sun, 11 Sep. 2023 In a different way, so too was the entire Rod Rust experience during the 1-15 1990 debacle. Globe Staff,, 1 Sep. 2023 In 2018, the year following the scallop-dredging debacle, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries set stricter catch limits, while the marine sanctuary launched a pilot program that released coordinates for four shipwrecks in a fishery bulletin. Laura Trethewey, Smithsonian Magazine, 1 Sep. 2023 Then there’s last year's playoff debacle in Jacksonville. Tyler Dragon, USA TODAY, 31 Aug. 2023 Subsequent studies have pointed to Russian carelessness, timely U.S. intelligence, and, above all, Ukrainian mobility and courage as the prime factors in the debacle of the war’s first weeks for Russia. Keith Gessen, The New Yorker, 29 Aug. 2023 The theatricality of the protest reminded me of last year’s Vincent van Gogh debacle. Molly Taft, The New Republic, 11 Aug. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'debacle.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1802, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of debacle was in 1802


Dictionary Entries Near debacle

Cite this Entry

“Debacle.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


variants also débâcle
di-ˈbäk-əl How to pronounce debacle (audio)
: a great disaster or complete failure
the army's retreat was a debacle

More from Merriam-Webster on debacle

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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