di·​sas·​ter di-ˈza-stər How to pronounce disaster (audio) -ˈsa- How to pronounce disaster (audio)
plural disasters
: a sudden calamitous event bringing great damage, loss, or destruction
natural disasters
: someone or something that is very bad: such as
: someone or something that is extremely unsuccessful
The wedding reception was a complete disaster.
Brilliant at maths and languages, she was a disaster in physical education …Derek Scally
: someone or something that has a very bad effect or result
The new coach was a disaster for the team.
"… for the average person, when unemployment strikes, it is a disaster for them. …"Peggy Nash
The Battle of Fort Washington took place at the north end of Manhattan Island. It was an unmitigated disaster.John F. Di Leo
It can be tough to tell, though, whether an investment is solid or a financial disaster waiting to happen.Katie Brockman
… the police chief … warned colleagues of the potential for a deadly accident. And … the editor of a major … magazine said it was a recipe for disaster.Patrick Kingsley
These negative reviews aren't the end of the world, but they can spell disaster for your business unless you know how to properly respond.Amine Rahal
: someone who is in a very agitated emotional state : wreck
"… I cried like a baby and kind of had a breakdown. I really just lost it. The weekend after we wrapped, I was a disaster. …"Alex Borstein
: someone or something that is in a very disordered state or condition : mess
The house is a complete disaster.
I got caught in the rain and showed up looking like a disaster.
obsolete, occult : an unfavorable aspect (see aspect sense 2a) of a planet or star

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.
Recent Examples on the Web Newsom requested a federal declaration of a fishery disaster in response to last year’s closure. Ian James, Los Angeles Times, 11 Apr. 2024 Given the massive price tag of climate disasters and governments’ adaptation costs, experts say the lawsuits could put the oil industry on the hook for many billions of dollars. Tribune News Service, The Mercury News, 11 Apr. 2024 The budget includes billions of dollars to help fight terrorism, secure the United States' borders, strengthen disaster resilience and more, Mayorkas said. Luke Barr, ABC News, 10 Apr. 2024 Just over a year ago, in the wake of the East Palestine disaster, the bipartisan Railway Safety Act was introduced in Congress, with support from our administration. Pete Buttigieg, TIME, 10 Apr. 2024 But three weeks later, work crews are setting ambitious timelines for reopening the port and mitigating some of the long-term economic damage of the disaster. Dylan Sloan, Fortune, 10 Apr. 2024 According to Climate Central, the Gem State has experienced just one billion-dollar weather disaster since 1980, the fewest of any state. Shaun Goodwin, Idaho Statesman, 9 Apr. 2024 Travis County also issued a disaster declaration, as did the city of Killeen. Cody Copeland, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 9 Apr. 2024 But those temporary disaster benefits are set to end April 17. Emily Alvarenga, San Diego Union-Tribune, 6 Apr. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'disaster.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

1567, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of disaster was in 1567


Dictionary Entries Near disaster

Cite this Entry

“Disaster.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/disaster. Accessed 23 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


di·​sas·​ter diz-ˈas-tər How to pronounce disaster (audio) dis- How to pronounce disaster (audio)
: a sudden great misfortune
especially : something (as a flood or tornado) that happens suddenly and causes much suffering or loss
disastrously adverb

from early French desastre and early Italian disastro, both meaning "an unfavorable position of a star," from early Italian dis- (negative prefix) and astro "star," from Latin astrum "star"

Word Origin
People who have bad luck are sometimes said to be "star-crossed." This expression comes from the traditional belief that the positions of the stars and planets can have a direct influence on earthly events. The origins of the word disaster can be traced to this belief. Disaster comes from disastro, an Italian word formed by combining the negative prefix dis- and the noun astro, meaning "star." Disaster at first meant "an unfavorable position of a star or planet." In time it came to be applied to the kind of terrible misfortune which such a position was thought to cause.

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