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

Labour craves a national election, despite the risk that voters could decide to punish all politicians amid exasperation over the Brexit debacle. Jill Lawless, The Seattle Times, "Shame, sadness in UK as Brexit reveals Parliament’s flaws," 14 Apr. 2019 Then, accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers spends 1,700 hours on this whole process (and occasionally screws it up, per the Moonlight/La La Land debacle in 2017—but that was less to do with voting and more about the wrong card being read). Katherine J. Igoe, Marie Claire, "Can There Be a Tie at the Oscars? Here's How It Would Go Down," 23 Feb. 2019 Well, looks like Starbucks is doing quite a bit more than Race Relations 101 for its employees after that Philadelphia debacle in April; the chain is actually placing a black woman in its leadership ranks. Angela Helm, The Root, "Mellody Hobson Will Become Starbucks’ No. 2 When Howard Schultz Steps Down," 5 June 2018 That’s how host Jimmy Kimmel ended last year’s Oscars ceremony following the biggest debacle in the show’s 89-year history. Jake Kring-schreifels, Esquire, "The Best, Worst, and Weirdest Moments of the 2018 Oscars," 5 Mar. 2018 Manufacturers are not installing bad air bags on any cars since the debacle with Takata. Bob Weber,, "New cars offer no good space to store a purse," 2 Sep. 2017 That Maliki has become more hostile to the KRG since the Mosul debacle, accusing it of being in league with Isis, makes reconciliation seem even less likely. Jonathan Foreman, Newsweek, "Can an Independent Kurdistan Reshape the Middle East?," 29 July 2014 Recent Form England comfortably got through qualifiers once again despite the whole debacle with Sam Allardyce at the start of the qualifying process., "England vs Tunisia Preview: Recent Form, Previous Encounter, World Cup Highlight, Predictions & More," 17 June 2018 Brennan started this entire debacle about President Trump. Ryan Teague Beckwith, Time, "Read the 191 Arguments President Trump Has Made Against the Mueller Investigation," 7 June 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

12 Jun 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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More from Merriam-Webster on debacle

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with debacle

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Spanish Central: Translation of debacle

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Britannica English: Translation of debacle for Arabic Speakers

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a tendency to relapse

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