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

The disaster began in the U.S. in 2006, when bees began to mysteriously disappear from commercial hives. Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic, "Honeyland Is a Stinging Allegory for Man-Made Disaster," 9 Aug. 2019 What can be done with the deserted land in Ukraine after Chernobyl’s catastrophic nuclear disaster? Jennifer Hassan, Washington Post, "Yes, scientists have created Chernobyl vodka. No, it’s not radioactive.," 8 Aug. 2019 What can be done with the deserted land in Ukraine after Chernobyl’s catastrophic nuclear disaster? Jennifer Hassan, BostonGlobe.com, "Yes, scientists have created Chernobyl vodka; no, it’s not radioactive," 8 Aug. 2019 After the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded in 1986, spewing radioactivity into the atmosphere, a 1,000-square-mile Exclusion Zone was established around the area hardest hit by the disaster. Brigit Katz, Smithsonian, "Why Scientists Are Making Vodka in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone," 8 Aug. 2019 The third season of the dramedy opens around the time of the 1986 Challenger space-shuttle disaster, turning that tragedy into an excruciatingly awkward TV moment. Brian Lowry, CNN, "'GLOW' shines a less flattering light on life during the 1980s," 8 Aug. 2019 In the first season after the disaster, Charlton had his most prolific season for the club after scoring 29 goals and would go on to become the best player in the world in 1966. SI.com, "Sir Matt Busby: The Legendary Scot Who Built Modern Man Utd's All-Time Best XI," 1 Aug. 2019 The team built a mobile application to collect traffic signal status information in the field after a disaster. Austen Erblat, sun-sentinel.com, "County launches new traffic signal app to help drivers and road crews after hurricanes," 31 July 2019 Azazel’s half-demon champions’ brutal fight to the death in the first episode ends in complete disaster. Samantha Highfill, EW.com, "Supernatural binge guide: 75 essential episodes to watch," 31 July 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 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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Last Updated

12 Aug 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

Comments on disaster

What made you want to look up disaster? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


not constant or steady

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