1. a general breakup or dispersion; sudden downfall or rout: The revolution ended in a debacle.
  2. a complete collapse or failure.
  3. a breaking up of ice in a river.Compare embacle.
  4. a violent rush of waters or ice.


  1. a sudden disastrous collapse or defeat, esp one involving a disorderly retreat; rout
  2. the breaking up of ice in a river during spring or summer, often causing flooding
  3. a violent rush of water carrying along debris

“disaster,” 1848, from French débâcle “downfall, collapse, disaster” (17c.), a figurative use, literally “breaking up (of ice on a river),” extended to the violent flood that follows when the river ice melts in spring; from débâcler “to free,” from Middle French desbacler “to unbar,” from des- “off” + bacler “to bar,” from Vulgar Latin *bacculare, from Latin baculum “stick” (see bacillus). Sense of “disaster” was present in French before English borrowed the word.

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