Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search
See also: débâcle and débâclé


Alternative forms[edit]


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)
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɑːkəl
  • Hyphenation: de‧ba‧cle


debacle (plural debacles)

  1. An event or enterprise that ends suddenly and disastrously, often with humiliating consequences. [from early 19th c.]
    • 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 Caribbean 2002, Routledge, →ISBN, 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 older 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
  • 1998, The Dorling Kindersley Illustrated Oxford Dictionary, Dorling Kindersley Limited and Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page 211
  • 2006, Ed. Michael Allaby, A Dictionary of Ecology, Oxford University Press, →ISBN
  • 1999, Ed. Robert Allen, Pocket Fowler's Modern English Usage, Oxford University Press, →ISBN
  • 1999, Ed. Jennifer Speake, The Oxford Essential Dictionary of Foreign Terms in English, Oxford University Press, →ISBN



Alternative forms[edit]



debacle m or f or n (plural debacles, diminutive debacletje n)

  1. debacle



debacle f (plural debacles)

  1. debacle