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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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 Smith and Trumbetti have also been charged with 4th-degree contempt, obstruction, and violation of a disaster and control act. Kerry Picket, Washington Examiner, "New Jersey gym owners reopen under threat of losing business license," 1 Aug. 2020 In the past, various government departments, including education, forestry, and disaster management have used geographic information systems (GIS) to map out demographics and asses information to handle calamities and crises. Ananya Bhattacharya, Quartz India, "Covid-19 is teaching India to use maps to battle the next pandemic," 30 July 2020 Smoke was still rising from the Salt River Union Pacific Bridge, yesterday a fiery disaster scene. The Republic, The Arizona Republic, "Leaking tank car secured after Tempe freight train derailment," 29 July 2020 In reviewing data from 1980 to 2020, weather disasters classified as severe storms make up around 15 percent of total disaster costs. Fox News, "US reaches 10th billion-dollar weather disaster by end of June 2020," 14 July 2020 Abbott extended a statewide disaster mandate on Friday. Caroline Linton, CBS News, "Houston leaders call for lockdown as county reports more than 27,600 active coronavirus cases," 12 July 2020 In North Texas, Medical City Healthcare opened more COVID-19 units this week, and Parkland Hospital had to request a disaster assistance team. Allie Morris, Dallas News, "‘Very, very difficult’: Texas COVID-19 hospitalizations at record high, nearing overwhelming level," 11 July 2020 President Trump on Friday declared a major disaster for the April 19 tornadoes and storms that hit parts of Alabama, allowing counties that sustained damage to access federal funds. Howard Koplowitz | Hkoplowitz@al.com, al, "Trump declares major disaster in Alabama for April 19 tornadoes, storms," 10 July 2020 Nobody’s saying disaster still can’t hit, but doctors and homeless policy managers say they are heartened by the numbers to date. Kevin Fagan, SFChronicle.com, "Surprise: Homeless people not getting coronavirus in the disastrous waves experts had feared," 10 July 2020

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

Time Traveler

The first known use of disaster was in 1567

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Statistics for disaster

Last Updated

5 Aug 2020

Cite this Entry

“Disaster.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/disaster. Accessed 8 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for disaster


How to pronounce disaster (audio) How to pronounce disaster (audio)

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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Comments on disaster

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