Printable Version
Pronunciation: kê-tæs-trê-fee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A calamity, cataclysm, a disaster of enormous proportions, involving great destruction or suffering. 2. A fiasco, an enormous falilure.

Notes: The important point to keep in mind is that the final [e] on this word is not silent as final [e]s usually are in English. The word has an adjective, catastrophic, which may be extended to catastrophical. Simply add -ly to the latter for the adverb. The verb, catastrophize, is a recent addition to this word's family with a rather peculiar meaning: "to characterize or interpret as disastrous". It is easy to catastrophize the results of the greenhouse effect and ozone depletion.

In Play: The attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001 by Muslim extremists was the greatest nonwartime catastrophe in US history. Hurricane Katrina, which struck southern Mississippi and Louisiana in 2005, certainly ranks among the greatest natural catastrophes of US history.

Word History: Today's word is Greek katastrophe "an overturning, ruin, conclusion", transliterated letter for letter from Greek. The Greek word is made up of kata- "down, against, apart" + strophe "a turn", and comes from the verb katastrephein "to ruin, undo". While English was tracing Greek words, it also copied strophe "stanza, group of repeated lines in poetry", without the prefix kata-. One final word from this root is strobos "whirling, whirlwind", which we at least Anglicized into strobe for strobe light.

Dr. Goodword,

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