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  1. a sudden and widespread disaster: the catastrophe of war.
  2. any misfortune, mishap, or failure; fiasco: The play was so poor our whole evening was a catastrophe.
  3. a final event or conclusion, usually an unfortunate one; a disastrous end: the great catastrophe of the Old South at Appomattox.
  4. (in a drama) the point at which the circumstances overcome the central motive, introducing the close or conclusion; dénouement.Compare catastasis, epitasis, protasis.
  5. Geology. a sudden, violent disturbance, especially of a part of the surface of the earth; cataclysm.
  6. Also called catastrophe function. Mathematics. any of the mathematical functions that describe the discontinuities that are treated in catastrophe theory.
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Origin of catastrophe

1570–80; < Greek katastrophḗ an overturning, akin to katastréphein to overturn. See cata-, strophe
Related formscat·a·stroph·ic [kat-uh-strof-ik] /ˌkæt əˈstrɒf ɪk/, cat·a·stroph·i·cal, ca·tas·tro·phal, adjectivesu·per·ca·tas·tro·phe, noun

Synonyms for catastrophe

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Synonym study

1, 3. See disaster.

Antonyms for catastrophe

1, 3. triumph.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for catastrophe

devastation, accident, crash, disaster, emergency, wreck, fiasco, mishap, trouble, failure, calamity, debacle, cataclysm, adversity, misery, tragedy, casualty, hardship, meltdown, fatality

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British Dictionary definitions for catastrophe


  1. a sudden, extensive, or notable disaster or misfortune
  2. the denouement of a play, esp a classical tragedy
  3. a final decisive event, usually causing a disastrous end
  4. Also called: cataclysm any sudden and violent change in the earth's surface caused by flooding, earthquake, or some other rapid process
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Derived Formscatastrophic (ˌkætəˈstrɒfɪk), adjectivecatastrophically, adverb

Word Origin for catastrophe

C16: from Greek katastrophē, from katastrephein to overturn, from strephein to turn
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

Word Origin and History for catastrophe


1530s, "reversal of what is expected" (especially a fatal turning point in a drama), from Latin catastropha, from Greek katastrophe "an overturning; a sudden end," from katastrephein "to overturn, turn down, trample on; to come to an end," from kata "down" (see cata-) + strephein "turn" (see strophe). Extension to "sudden disaster" is first recorded 1748.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper