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 forced the evacuation of tens of thousands and killed at least 31 firefighters and plant workers in the immediate aftermath. Yulia Drozd, ABC News, "Chernobyl captures imaginations, brings underground tourism 35 years after nuclear disaster," 29 Apr. 2021 Chef Q Ibraheem is an Evanston culinary worker who won the organization’s disaster services award. Steve Johnson, chicagotribune.com, "Evanston’s Chef Q, others take 2021 Red Cross Heroes awards," 29 Apr. 2021 Official numbers understate the humanitarian disaster. Sadanand Dhume, WSJ, "India’s Covid Crisis Could Reach You Too," 29 Apr. 2021 Still, the presence of the variant could complicate the taming of India’s COVID-19 disaster. BostonGlobe.com, "India blames a virus variant as its COVID-19 crisis deepens," 28 Apr. 2021 Still, the presence of the variant could complicate the taming of India’s Covid-19 disaster. New York Times, "India Blames a Virus Variant as Its Covid-19 Crisis Deepens," 28 Apr. 2021 And the disaster in India has the potential to unleash threats far beyond its borders. Erin Allday, San Francisco Chronicle, "Bay Area residents with close ties to India grapple with suffering of loved ones in pandemic-ravaged nation," 28 Apr. 2021 The Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster occurred on April 26, 1986, after two explosions following routine maintenance set Chernobyl's No. 4 Reactor ablaze. Elizabeth Gamillo, Smithsonian Magazine, "Chernobyl Survivors Do Not Pass Excess Mutations Onto Their Children After All," 28 Apr. 2021 She has since been hired by AshBritt, a disaster-recovery firm that was awarded two debris removal contracts in Lane and Jackson counties that also involve removing hazard trees marked by CDR Maguire and its contractors. oregonlive, "‘It’s absolutely insane’: Swaths of trees cut after Oregon fires amid allegations of mismanagement," 28 Apr. 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

Time Traveler

The first known use of disaster was in 1567

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Last Updated

2 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Disaster.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/disaster. Accessed 12 May. 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

Comments on disaster

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