Printable Version
Pronunciation: -tê-kli-zêm Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A devastating flood, a deluge. 2. A sudden, violent change in the Earth's crust. 3. A catastrophe of the first magnitude.

Notes: First, we must remember that this word contains the prefix cata-, ending on an A, not the E seen in category. Next, we all must remember that the end of this word is not the suffix -ism, but part of its root, spelt with a Y. Finally, you have your choice of adjectives, cataclysmal or cataclysmic(al), both of which become adverbs with -ly attached to their end: cataclysmally or cataclysmically.

In Play: Tsunamis cause cataclysms: "Due to the large volume of water moved by a tsunami, they always bring a cataclysm to coastal communities." A cataclysm today is simply the greatest imaginable catastrophe of any sort: "The 2021 earthquake in Haiti was a cataclysm of the first magnitude for this small island nation." As global warming increases, so does the number of cataclysms.

Word History: Today's riveting word is French cataclysme, the legal descendant of Latin cataclysmos "deluge, huge flood", less its final silent E. The Romans borrowed the word from Greek kataklysmos, the noun of the verb kataklyzein "to inundate, to deluge" made up of kata- "against, thoroughly" + klyzein "to wash away". The root, akin to that in Latin cloaca "drain, sewer", is PIE kleu-/klou- "to wash, cleanse", source also of Lithuanian šluoti "to sweep", Latvian slota "broom", and German lauter "pure, honest". The intensified meaning of this word fits the destruction of hurricanes more tightly than catastrophe. (Today's word blew into the fertile mind of our old friend, Susan Lister, as she watched the news of hurricane Rita's approach to our shores 16 years ago.)

Dr. Goodword,

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