di·​sas·​ter | \ di-ˈza-stər How to pronounce disaster (audio) , -ˈsa- How to pronounce disaster (audio) \

Definition of disaster

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

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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 When Tokyo bid for the 2020 Games, the prime minister at the time, Shinzo Abe, framed it as a symbol of triumph over a devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in 2011. New York Times, 22 July 2021 So while there is a road back for the U.S., it’s one filled with potholes, switchbacks and narrow bridges, hazards that will mean disaster if the team doesn’t find its mojo quickly. Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times, 22 July 2021 Gretchen Whitmer, at least one disaster appeared to have been averted. Melissa Gira Grant, The New Republic, 22 July 2021 Those that reacted to the pandemic, whether by pivoting to new business lines or navigating bureaucracies to get a PPP loan, can fall back on their knowledge the next time disaster strikes. Emily Barone, Time, 22 July 2021 Even though many see a way to avoid a debt ceiling disaster, the brinksmanship itself only amplifies concerns about the political health of the United States. Matt Egan, CNN, 22 July 2021 Texas counties are divided over whether to accept the disaster designation and state troopers. Elizabeth Findell, WSJ, 22 July 2021 Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor has denied a request by a Cleveland attorney to remove a judge from his contempt-of-court case involving the University Hospitals fertility lab disaster case. Jeremy Pelzer, cleveland, 21 July 2021 Archaeologists think they were selected as human sacrifices, possibly to avert a pending disaster like a famine. NBC News, 21 July 2021

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 2

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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Time Traveler for disaster

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The first known use of disaster was in 1567

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Dictionary Entries Near disaster



disaster area

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Last Updated

25 Jul 2021

Cite this Entry

“Disaster.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/disaster. Accessed 1 Aug. 2021.

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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

More from Merriam-Webster on disaster

Nglish: Translation of disaster for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of disaster for Arabic Speakers


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