Saturday, 11 September 2010

What's a debacle?

Earlier today, Mr H. and I had occasion to exclaim "What a debacle!!"

What a great word it was, we agreed; I said it must stem from the french, obviously.  Now we always use it in the sense of 'what a shambles / palaver', or that type of thing; but now I've looked it up it means nothing of the sort....

It actually means:

1 (a)  an utter defeat or failure,
(b) a sudder collapse or downfall

2 a confused rush or rout; a stampede

3 (a) a break up of ice in a river, with resultant flooding,
(b) a sudden rush of water carrying along blocks of stone and other debris

It does indeed stem from the french d├ębacler - to unbar.

Now I would hazard a guess that if you used the word 'debacle' as any of those meanings, you would get a strange look; maybe one day I shall have occasion to talk about a defeat, stampede or river in spate in which case I will feel very superior!


  1. In french it still means utter defeat and surrender and it calls back sour memories. Words borrowed from a foreign language usually change meaning.

  2. Yes, and then get adapted over centuries - a bit of chinese whispers in a way, I suppose!


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