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 débacler - 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!