noun di·sas·ter \di-ˈzas-tər, -ˈsas-\

Definition of disaster

  1. 1 obsolete, occult :  an unfavorable aspect (see aspect 2a) of a planet or star

  2. 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.

disaster was our Word of the Day on 05/29/2010. Hear the podcast!

Examples of disaster in a sentence

  1. The program examined several bridge failures and other engineering disasters.

  2. The new regulations could be a disaster for smaller businesses.

  3. They're trying to find a way to avoid disaster.

  4. The dinner party was a complete disaster.

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."

Origin and Etymology of disaster

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

First Known Use: 1568

DISASTER Defined for English Language Learners


noun di·sas·ter \di-ˈzas-tər, -ˈsas-\

Definition of disaster for English Language Learners

  • : 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

DISASTER Defined for Kids


noun di·sas·ter \diz-ˈas-tər, dis-\

Definition of disaster for Students

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

History for disaster

People who experience bad luck are sometimes said to be “star-crossed.” This expression comes from the belief that the position of the stars and planets has a direct influence on earthly events. The origins of the word disaster can be traced to this same belief. Disaster is borrowed from disastro, an Italian word formed from the negative prefix dis- and the noun astro, meaning “star.” Disastro originally referred to an unfortunate event, such as a military defeat, that took place when certain heavenly bodies were in an unlucky position.

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