de·​ba·​cle | \ dē-ˈbä-kəl How to pronounce debacle (audio) , di-, -ˈba- How to pronounce debacle (audio) ; nonstandard ˈde-bə-kəl How to pronounce debacle (audio) \
variants: or less commonly débâcle \ dē-​ˈbä-​kəl How to pronounce debacle (audio) , di-​ , -​ˈba-​ How to pronounce debacle (audio) ; also  dā-​ˈbäk(lᵊ) , -​ˈbä-​kəl , How to pronounce debacle (audio) \

Definition of debacle

1a : a great disaster
b : a complete failure : fiasco
2 : a tumultuous breakup of ice in a river
3 : a violent disruption (as of an army) : rout

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The Origin of Debacle Is French

Debacle comes from the French noun débâcle, which comes from the verb débâcler, meaning "to clear," "to unbolt," or "to unbar." That verb is from Middle French desbacler, which joined the prefix des- (equivalent to our de-, meaning "to do the opposite of") with the verb "bacler" ("to block"). In its original uses, "debacle" meant a breaking up of ice, or the rush of ice or water that follows such an occurrence. Eventually, "debacle" was used also to mean "a violent, destructive flood." Naturally, such uses led to meanings such as "a breaking up," "collapse," and finally "disaster" or "fiasco."

Examples of debacle in a Sentence

What a debacle. Next thing he knew, one of the patients would turn up dead. — T. Coraghessan Boyle, The Road to Wellville, 1993 So what had been intended as an orderly hearing ended in a general debacle, for as soon as Fray Domingo saw his protector dragged toward the exit door, he leaped at the guards and began pummeling them. — James A. Michener, Texas, 1985 Savings themselves evaporate in the course of such a debacle and thus the very wherewithal for reversing and retrieving the situation is lost … — Jane Jacobs, Cities and the Wealth of Nations, 1984 After the debacle of his first novel, he had trouble getting a publisher for his next book. the financial debacle that was the stock market crash of 1929
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Recent Examples on the Web Iowa party chairman Troy Price resigned as a result of the debacle., 9 Oct. 2021 Then again, many analysts and investors didn’t forecast the enormity of the subprime mortgage debacle more than a decade ago, and its global repercussions. Tripti Lahiri, Quartz, 21 Sep. 2021 Biden administration officials may try to blame the U.S. intelligence community for the Afghanistan debacle. Michael Allen, WSJ, 1 Sep. 2021 Yet the last few weeks also showcased the hypocrisy of the Republican Party, which ignored its complicity in ex-President Donald Trump's deal with the Taliban, a folding that set the stage for the current debacle. Stephen Collinson, CNN, 31 Aug. 2021 Following the botched rollout of a new DWP billing system that overcharged a wide swath of customers, the city in 2015 sued PricewaterhouseCoopers, blaming the consulting firm for the debacle. Dakota Smith, Los Angeles Times, 13 July 2021 By not holding industry and state officials accountable for the debacle, Abbott could leave the window open for a challenger. Dallas News, 29 Mar. 2021 Pitino was hardly blameless for the debacle at Louisville, which cost the Cardinals their 2013 national title and more than 100 wins. Nancy Armour, USA TODAY, 21 Mar. 2021 Texas Governor Greg Abbott also blamed ERCOT for the debacle. Khristopher J. Brooks, CBS News, 15 Mar. 2021

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

1802, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for debacle

French débâcle, from débâcler to clear, from Middle French desbacler, from des- de- + bacler to block, perhaps from Vulgar Latin *bacculare, from Latin baculum staff

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Time Traveler for debacle

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The first known use of debacle was in 1802

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Last Updated

14 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Debacle.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for debacle



English Language Learners Definition of debacle

: a great disaster or complete failure

More from Merriam-Webster on debacle

Nglish: Translation of debacle for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of debacle for Arabic Speakers


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