ca·​tas·​tro·​phe | \ kə-ˈta-strə-(ˌ)fē How to pronounce catastrophe (audio) \
plural catastrophes

Essential Meaning of catastrophe

: a terrible disaster The oil spill was an environmental catastrophe. Experts fear a humanitarian catastrophe if food isn't delivered to the refugees soon. See More Examplesa global/nuclear/economic catastrophe an area on the brink of catastropheHide

Full Definition of catastrophe

1 : a momentous tragic event ranging from extreme misfortune to utter overthrow or ruin Deforestation and erosion can lead to an ecological catastrophe.
2 : utter failure : fiasco the party was a catastrophe
3a : a violent and sudden change in a feature of the earth
b : a violent usually destructive natural event (such as a supernova)
4 : the final event of the dramatic action especially of a tragedy

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Other Words from catastrophe

catastrophic \ ˌka-​tə-​ˈsträ-​fik How to pronounce catastrophe (audio) \ adjective
catastrophically \ ˌka-​tə-​ˈsträ-​fi-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce catastrophe (audio) \ adverb

Did you know?

When English speakers first borrowed the Greek word catastrophe in the 1500s, they used it for the conclusion or final event of a dramatic work, especially of a tragedy. By the early 1600s, "catastrophe" was being used more generally of any generally unhappy conclusion or disastrous or ruinous end. By the 18th century, "catastrophe" had come to denote truly devastating events, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Finally, it came to be applied to things that are only figuratively catastrophic - burnt dinners, lost luggage, really bad movies, etc.

Examples of catastrophe in a Sentence

The oil spill was an environmental catastrophe. Experts fear a humanitarian catastrophe if food isn't delivered to the refugees soon. an area on the brink of catastrophe
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Recent Examples on the Web This was a climate catastrophe unlike any the public is used to seeing play out on TV. James Ross Gardner, The New Yorker, 11 Oct. 2021 Local officials, who feared an environmental catastrophe at first, have more recently voiced hope that the total spill will be less than initially feared. Christopher Weber, ajc, 8 Oct. 2021 Perhaps the parent might even accuse you of not having made an attempt to alert them about the impending catastrophe. Lance Eliot, Forbes, 8 Oct. 2021 Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle said the catastrophe could have been avoided. Matt Leach, Fox News, 7 Oct. 2021 Clayton studies how people make connections to the environment and how the human mind grapples with climate anxiety—concern about planetary catastrophe. Matt Simon, Wired, 7 Oct. 2021 In the first 48 hours alone, more than 70 L.A. Times journalists played a role in covering the evolving catastrophe. Los Angeles Times, 7 Oct. 2021 The move almost catalyzed catastrophe, as Stanton nearly knocked down the Wall in left-center with a 115-m.p.h., 6 Oct. 2021 But this week, the idea of minting one is once again being floated as a way around the federal debt-ceiling crisis to avert a possible default and the economic catastrophe that could ensue. Washington Post, 5 Oct. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'catastrophe.' 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 catastrophe

1540, in the meaning defined at sense 4

History and Etymology for catastrophe

Greek katastrophē, from katastrephein to overturn, from kata- + strephein to turn

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Time Traveler for catastrophe

Time Traveler

The first known use of catastrophe was in 1540

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catastrophe theory

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Last Updated

16 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Catastrophe.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for catastrophe


ca·​tas·​tro·​phe | \ kə-ˈta-strə-fē How to pronounce catastrophe (audio) \

Kids Definition of catastrophe

1 : a sudden disaster The oil spill was an environmental catastrophe.
2 : complete failure : fiasco The party was a catastrophe.


ca·​tas·​tro·​phe | \ kə-ˈtas-trə-fē How to pronounce catastrophe (audio) \

Medical Definition of catastrophe

: death (as from an inexplicable cause) before, during, or after an operation

More from Merriam-Webster on catastrophe

Nglish: Translation of catastrophe for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of catastrophe for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about catastrophe


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