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[av-uh-lanch, -lahnch] /ˈæv əˌlæntʃ, -ˌlɑntʃ/
a large mass of snow, ice, etc., detached from a mountain slope and sliding or falling suddenly downward.
anything like an avalanche in suddenness and overwhelming quantity:
an avalanche of misfortunes; an avalanche of fan mail.
Also called Townsend avalanche. Physics, Chemistry. a cumulative ionization process in which the ions and electrons of one generation undergo collisions that produce a greater number of ions and electrons in succeeding generations.
verb (used without object), avalanched, avalanching.
to come down in, or like, an avalanche.
verb (used with object), avalanched, avalanching.
to overwhelm with an extremely large amount of anything; swamp.
Origin of avalanche
1755-65; < French < dial. (Savoy) avalantse, alteration (by association with avaler to descend rapidly) of laventse < pre-Latin (perhaps Ligurian) *lavanca, or reshaping of Late Latin labīna landslide (derivative of Latin labī to slide) with a pre-Latin suffix -anca
Can be confused
avalanche, landslide. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for avalanche
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • A fair-sized landslide, indeed an avalanche, thundered down.

    The Story of Geronimo James Arthur Kjelgaard
  • Dorcas had no dreams so happy that such an avalanche could not sweep them aside.

    Meadow Grass Alice Brown
  • Before I could reach a safety zone, however, I was caught in the outer edge of the avalanche and whirled along for some distance.

    Girl Scouts in the Rockies Lillian Elizabeth Roy
  • Fandor was too stunned by the avalanche of incidents to move.

    A Nest of Spies Pierre Souvestre
  • But they were too late, she ended with a pathetic sigh, for the avalanche was upon them before they reached it.

    The Liberty Girl Rena I. Halsey
British Dictionary definitions for avalanche


  1. a fall of large masses of snow and ice down a mountain
  2. a fall of rocks, sand, etc
a sudden or overwhelming appearance of a large quantity of things: an avalanche of letters
(physics) a group of ions or electrons produced by a single ion or electron as a result of a collision with some other form of matter
to come down overwhelmingly (upon)
Word Origin
C18: from French, by mistaken division from la valanche, from valanche, from (northwestern Alps) dialect lavantse; related to Old Provençal lavanca, of obscure origin
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 avalanche

1763, from French avalanche (17c.), from Romansch (Swiss) avalantze "descent," altered (by metathesis of -l- and -v-, probably influenced by Old French avaler "to descend, go down") from Savoy dialect lavantse, from Provençal lavanca "avalanche," perhaps from a pre-Latin Alpine language (the suffix -anca suggests Ligurian). As a verb, from 1872.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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avalanche in Science
  1. The sudden fall or slide of a large mass of material down the side of a mountain. Avalanches may contain snow, ice, rock, soil, or a mixture of these materials. Avalanches can be triggered by changes in temperature, by sound vibrations, or by vibrations in the earth itself.

  2. A process resulting in the production of large numbers of ionized particles, in which electrons or ions collide with molecules, with each collision itself producing an additional electron or ion that in turn collides with other molecules. Avalanches are what generate the pulses of electric current that are registered by Geiger counters.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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