Definition of cataclysm in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈkatəˌklɪz(ə)m/


1A large-scale and violent event in the natural world: the cataclysm at the end of the Cretaceous Period
More example sentences
  • Meanwhile, across the globe, there are thousands of families like his: slowly rebuilding, trying to make sense of a natural cataclysm which changed their lives forever.
  • Many have noticed that poorer nations are more severely affected by natural cataclysms than developed nations.
  • These are not the victims of natural cataclysms, these are the victims of human greed for power, violence, stupidity, and of man's destructive impulses.
1.1A sudden violent political or social upheaval: the cataclysm of the First World War
More example sentences
  • It indicates that despite the political upheavals and cataclysms of the past decade, the core of military professionals, who constitute the nucleus of the Russian Armed Forces, has been preserved.
  • The country, he writes, has exceeded its ‘limit for political and socio-economic upheavals, cataclysms and radical reforms.’
  • He has never written a poem that addresses, passionately, or engages with, his own country's terrible political state, the cataclysms for centuries.
disaster, catastrophe, calamity, tragedy, act of God, devastation, crisis, holocaust, ruin, ruination, upheaval, convulsion, blow, shock, reverse, trouble, trial, tribulation;
misfortune, mishap, accident, mischance, misadventure, woe, affliction, distress
informal meltdown, whammy
British informal car crash
archaic bale
Scottish archaic mishanter



Pronunciation: /-ˈklɪzm(ə)l/


Early 17th century (originally denoting the biblical Flood described in Genesis): from French cataclysme, via Latin from Greek kataklusmos 'deluge', from kata- 'down' + kluzein 'to wash'.

  • cataract from Late Middle English:

    Latin cataracta (from Greek kataraktes, ‘rushing down’) meant both ‘waterfall or floodgate’ and ‘portcullis’. The first meaning led to the ‘large waterfall’ sense of the English word cataract, and the second is probably behind the medical sense describing the clouding of the lens of the eye. A person's vision is blocked by this condition as if a portcullis had been lowered over the eye. Other words in English containing kata ‘down’ include cataclysm (early 17th century) from kluzein ‘to wash’; catapult (late 16th century) from pallein ‘hurl’; and catastrophe (mid 16th century) from strophē ‘turning’.

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: cata|clysm

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.