Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for July 30, 2020 is:

catastrophe • kuh-TASS-truh-fee  • noun

1 : a momentous tragic event ranging from extreme misfortune to utter overthrow or ruin

2 : utter failure : fiasco

3 a : 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


“We are a nation that’s used to catastrophes. We deal with avalanches, earthquakes, eruptions, and so on.” — Alma Möller, quoted in The New Yorker, 1 June 2020

“Be the challenge grave illness, divorce, a natural disaster or an economic meltdown, the rebound represents how we respond, how we stand strong in the face of catastrophe, how we refuse to give up.” — Designers Today, 27 May 2020

Did you know?

When English speakers first borrowed the Greek word katastrophē (from katastrephein, meaning “to overturn”) as catastrophe in the 1500s, they used it for the conclusion or final event of a dramatic work, especially of a tragedy. In time, catastrophe came to be used more generally of any unhappy conclusion, or disastrous or ruinous end. By the mid-18th century, it was being used 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.

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