noun de·ba·cle \dē-ˈbä-kəl, di-, -ˈba-; ÷ˈde-bə-kəl\
variants: or less commonly


play \also dā-ˈbäk(lə)\

Definition of debacle

  1. 1 :  a tumultuous breakup of ice in a river

  2. 2 :  a violent disruption (as of an army) :  rout

  3. 3a :  a great disasterb :  a complete failure :  fiasco

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 Boyle, The Road to Wellville, 1993

  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. Michener, Texas, 1985

  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 Jacobs, Cities and the Wealth of Nations, 1984

  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

Did You Know?

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

First Known Use: 1802

DEBACLE Defined for English Language Learners


noun de·ba·cle \dē-ˈbä-kəl, di-, -ˈba-; ÷ˈde-bə-kəl\

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).


to cast off or become cast off

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