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[kuh-tas-truh-fee] /kəˈtæs trə fi/
a sudden and widespread disaster:
the catastrophe of war.
any misfortune, mishap, or failure; fiasco:
The play was so poor our whole evening was a catastrophe.
a final event or conclusion, usually an unfortunate one; a disastrous end:
the great catastrophe of the Old South at Appomattox.
(in a drama) the point at which the circumstances overcome the central motive, introducing the close or conclusion; dénouement.
Geology. a sudden, violent disturbance, especially of a part of the surface of the earth; cataclysm.
Also called catastrophe function. Mathematics. any of the mathematical functions that describe the discontinuities that are treated in catastrophe theory.
1570-80; < Greek katastrophḗ an overturning, akin to katastréphein to overturn. See cata-, strophe
Related forms
[kat-uh-strof-ik] /ˌkæt əˈstrɒf ɪk/ (Show IPA),
catastrophical, catastrophal, adjective
supercatastrophe, noun
1. misfortune, calamity. 1, 3. See disaster.
1, 3. triumph. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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Examples from the web for catastrophes
  • Nor is he notable for the violence or sensationalism of his catastrophes.
  • The same fabulous exploits, the same catastrophes, the same heroes.
  • We simply don't have the resources to prevent all catastrophes and still allow for innovation and calculated risk-taking.
  • In fact earthly life has survived billions of years in spite of many catastrophes.
  • Perhaps the human visual system is optimised to survive during one of these catastrophes.
  • Barring catastrophes-natural or manmade-the third millennium will be the real age of space.
  • Populations ravaged by forest fires, famines, or other catastrophes have nowhere else to go.
  • Global warming and species extinction are examples of potential catastrophes that are hiding in plain sight, experts say.
  • We're going to ask a few questions about catastrophes.
  • It's not uncommon for survivors of catastrophes to feel benumbed by what they have experienced.
British Dictionary definitions for catastrophes


a sudden, extensive, or notable disaster or misfortune
the denouement of a play, esp a classical tragedy
a final decisive event, usually causing a disastrous end
Also called cataclysm. any sudden and violent change in the earth's surface caused by flooding, earthquake, or some other rapid process
Derived Forms
catastrophic (ˌkætəˈstrɒfɪk) adjective
catastrophically, adverb
Word Origin
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
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Word Origin and History for catastrophes



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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Encyclopedia Article for catastrophes


in literature, the final action that completes the unraveling of the plot in a play, especially in a tragedy. Catastrophe is a synonym of denouement. The term is sometimes applied to a similar action in a novel or story.

Learn more about catastrophe with a free trial on
Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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