di·​sas·​ter | \ di-ˈzas-tər How to pronounce disaster (audio) , -ˈsas- How to pronounce disaster (audio) \

Definition of disaster

1 obsolete, occult : an unfavorable aspect (see aspect sense 2a) of a planet or star
2 : a sudden calamitous event bringing great damage, loss, or destruction natural disasters broadly : a sudden or great misfortune or failure The party was a disaster.

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Did You Know?

Disaster has its roots in the belief that the positions of stars influence the fate of humans, often in destructive ways; its original meaning in English was "an unfavorable aspect of a planet or star." The word comes to us through Middle French and the Old Italian word disastro, from the Latin prefix dis- and Latin astro, meaning "star." Another unfortunate word that comes to us from astrological beliefs is "ill-starred." Now generally used in the sense of "unlucky" or "having or destined to a hapless fate," "ill-starred" was originally used literally to describe someone born under or guided by an evil star. We also have star-crossed, meaning "not favored by the stars" or "ill-fated."

Examples of disaster in a Sentence

The program examined several bridge failures and other engineering disasters. The new regulations could be a disaster for smaller businesses. They're trying to find a way to avoid disaster. The dinner party was a complete disaster.
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Recent Examples on the Web

The ill-fated journey of Lion Air Flight 610 also ended in disaster, killing all 189 people onboard last October. Sam Blum, Popular Mechanics, "FAA 'Tentatively' Approves Software Update For The Grounded Boeing 737 Max 8," 25 Mar. 2019 All told, 18 members of the family died or disappeared in the disaster. Fox News, "Search for Guatemala eruption victims halted as death toll hits 109," 2 Oct. 2018 Those are indirect hurricane deaths normally counted in a disaster’s official death toll. Emily Stewart, Vox, "Trump doubles down on Puerto Rico death toll conspiracy," 15 Sep. 2018 Centauro is the latest experiment by scientists to find the most adaptable and useful body-shape for robots designed to help in disasters. James Vincent, The Verge, "The future of search-and-rescue robots might be centaur, not human," 28 July 2018 Eufemia's family is one of the hardest hit in a disaster that officials admit has been made worse by various delays in warnings. Abigail Van Buren, Houston Chronicle, "Talk of remarriage triggers questions about burial plots," 11 July 2018 More than 700 people were injured in the disaster at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, which emerged as a political flash point over the role of wealth and class in British life. Michael Wolgelenter, New York Times, "Hillsborough Police Commander Faces Trial in 95 Soccer Deaths," 29 June 2018 Predictably, a foray back into the wilds of the Pacific Northwest almost ends in disaster. Martin Fritz Huber, Outside Online, "'Leave No Trace' Is Brutally Honest About Rewilding," 28 June 2018 As military campaigns go, the Children’s Crusade was a disaster. Paul H. Tice, WSJ, "On Climate, the Kids Are All Wrong," 12 Mar. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'disaster.' 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 disaster

1567, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for disaster

Middle French & Old Italian; Middle French desastre, from Old Italian disastro, from dis- (from Latin) + astro star, from Latin astrum — more at astral

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Statistics for disaster

Last Updated

8 Apr 2019

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Time Traveler for disaster

The first known use of disaster was in 1567

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More Definitions for disaster



English Language Learners Definition of disaster

: something (such as a flood, tornado, fire, plane crash, etc.) that happens suddenly and causes much suffering or loss to many people
: something that has a very bad effect or result
: a complete or terrible failure


di·​sas·​ter | \ diz-ˈas-tər How to pronounce disaster (audio) , dis-\

Kids Definition of disaster

: something (as a flood or a tornado) that happens suddenly and causes much suffering or loss

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More from Merriam-Webster on disaster

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with disaster

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for disaster

Spanish Central: Translation of disaster

Nglish: Translation of disaster for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of disaster for Arabic Speakers

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marked by a state of overwhelming emotion

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