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See also: débâcle and débâclé


Alternative forms[edit]


First attested in the early 19th century. From French débâcle, from débâcler ‎(to unbar; unleash) from prefix dé- ‎(un-) + bâcler ‎(to dash, bind, bar, block) [perhaps from unattested Middle French and Old French *bâcler, *bacler ‎(to hold in place, prop a door or window open)], from Vulgar Latin *bacculare, from Latin baculum ‎(rod, staff used for support), from Proto-Indo-European *bak-.

Also attested in Old French desbacler ‎(to clear a harbour by getting ships unloaded to make room for incoming ships with lading) and in Occitan baclar ‎(to close).

The hypothesis of a derivation from Middle Dutch bakkelen ‎(to freeze artificially, lock in place), from bakken ‎(to stick, stick hard, glue together) has been discredited by the lack of attestation of bakkelen in Middle Dutch and by it having only the meaning "freeze superficially" in Dutch.


  • (UK) IPA(key): /deɪˈbɑː.kəl/, /dɛˈbɑː.kəl/
  • (US) IPA(key): /dɪˈbɑ.kəl/, /dəˈbɑ.kəl/, /deɪˈbɑ.kəl/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɑːkəl


debacle ‎(plural debacles)

  1. An event or enterprise that ends suddenly and disastrously, often with humiliating consequences.
    • 1952, Maimonides, translated by Boaz Cohen, Epistle to Yemen page 5,
      The event proved to be a great debacle for the partisans of this prognosticator.
    • 1996, Richard L. Canby, "SOF: An Alternative Perspective on Doctrine", in Schultz et al (eds), Roles And Missions of SOF In The Aftermath Of The Cold War, p. 188,
      The result is a military approach which maximizes political tensions with Russia [] and lays the ground for a military debacle.
    • 2002, Jacqueline West, South America, Central America and the Carribean 2002, Routledge, ISBN 1-857431-21-9, page 68,
      The Falklands-Malvinas débâcle provided the opportunity to restructure the military High Command; Alfonsín removed anti-democratic senior officers and replaced them with more co-operative ones.
    • 2007, BP pipeline failure: hearing before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, "Statement by Peter Van Tuyn", p. 46,
      The BP Prudhoe Bay debacle [the Prudhoe Bay oil spill] thus provides but the latest in a long line of reasons why leasing this region of the NPR-A is a bad idea.
  2. (ecology) A breaking up of a natural dam, usually made of ice, by a river and the ensuing rush of water.
    • 1836, Henry De La Beche, How to Observe: Geology, p. 69
      [] so that in extreme cases the latter may even be dammed up for a time, and a debacle be the consequence, when the main river overcomes the resistance opposed to it, []
    • 1837, John Lee Comstock, Outlines of Geology, p. 51
      For several months after the debacle just described, the river Dranse, having no settled channel, shifted its position continually []
    • 1872, Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, p. 425,
      When this débâcle commences [] , the masses of ice, drifting with the current and unable to pass, are hurled upon those already soldered together; thus an enormous barrier is formed []

Usage notes[edit]

  • The old-fashioned spelling with accents is no longer listed at all or only mentioned as an alternative in the online versions of most major British and American dictionaries.


  • (An event or enterprise that ends suddenly and disastrously): fiasco



  • 2005, Ed. Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, The Oxford Dictionary of English (2nd edition revised), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-861057-2
  • 1998, The Dorling Kindersley Illustrated Oxford Dictionary, Dorling Kindersley Limited and Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-7513-1110-3, page 211
  • 2006, Ed. Michael Allaby, A Dictionary of Ecology, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-860905-1
  • 1999, Ed. Robert Allen, Pocket Fowler's Modern English Usage, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-860947-7
  • 1999, Ed. Jennifer Speake, The Oxford Essential Dictionary of Foreign Terms in English, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-425-16995-2



debacle f ‎(plural debacles)

  1. debacle