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[kat-uh-kliz-uh m] /ˈkæt əˌklɪz əm/
any violent upheaval, especially one of a social or political nature.
Physical Geography. a sudden and violent physical action producing changes in the earth's surface.
an extensive flood; deluge.
Origin of cataclysm
1625-35; < Late Latin cataclysmos (Vulgate) < Greek kataklysmós flood (akin to kataklýzein to flood), equivalent to kata- cata- + klysmós a washing
Can be confused
cataclysm, catechism.
Synonym Study
1. See disaster. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for cataclysm
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • There was no doubt in his mind that somehow they had been responsible for the cataclysm.

    Pirates of the Gorm Nat Schachner
  • De Launay dominated her, and she stood as rigid as a statue, awaiting the cataclysm.

    Louisiana Lou William West Winter
  • He had snatched a soul for himself out of a cataclysm, remember.

    A Set of Six Joseph Conrad
  • I have been trying to save my soul with it in the cataclysm of a world.

    The Ghost in the White House Gerald Stanley Lee
  • Back had they gone to town, and then came the cataclysm of noon.

    Warrior Gap Charles King
  • Yet the Romanoffs went in the cataclysm, and so, too, did the Gorys.

    Gigolo Edna Ferber
  • But it must have been a cataclysm of spectacular dimensions.

    Storm Over Warlock Andre Norton
  • I can think of no cataclysm that could have the force to move me from my path.

    The Promised Land Mary Antin
British Dictionary definitions for cataclysm


a violent upheaval, esp of a political, military, or social nature
a disastrous flood; deluge
(geology) another name for catastrophe (sense 4)
Derived Forms
cataclysmic, cataclysmal, adjective
cataclysmically, adverb
Word Origin
C17: via French from Latin, from Greek kataklusmos deluge, from katakluzein to flood, from kluzein to wash
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for cataclysm

1630s, from French cataclysme (16c.), from Latin cataclysmos or directly from Greek kataklysmos "deluge, flood, inundation," from kataklyzein "to deluge," from kata "down" (see cata-) + klyzein "to wash," from PIE *kleue- "to wash, clean" (see cloaca).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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