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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.
1. See disaster. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for cataclysm
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Men everywhere felt that the social system was threatened with a cataclysm.

    Albert Gallatin John Austin Stevens
  • There was no doubt in his mind that somehow they had been responsible for the cataclysm.

    Pirates of the Gorm Nat Schachner
  • And the second cataclysm in the House, even at its worst (which was what mamma had made it), was hardly comparable to the first.

    V. V.'s Eyes Henry Sydnor Harrison
  • He had snatched a soul for himself out of a cataclysm, remember.

    A Set of Six Joseph Conrad
  • I leave these airy words of prophecy as they stood in 1912 before the cataclysm!

  • 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
  • He was the first writer who ventured to maintain that the universality of the Mosaic cataclysm ought not to be insisted upon.

    Principles of Geology Charles Lyell
  • Yet the Romanoffs went in the cataclysm, and so, too, did the Gorys.

    Gigolo Edna Ferber
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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