Words To Describe Disasters

By Maeve Maddox

The past couple of weeks have actually seen a surge of fevered rhetoric in the media. Here are a few examples:
Lets have a look at these scary words: bloodbath, mess, disaster, turmoil, disaster, carnage, havoc, fiasco. When are they suitable to the context, and when are they overkill?
bloodbath (noun): a fight or battle at which much blood is spilt; a wholesale slaughter, a massacre.
Blood is one of the most expressive words in English. It seems overkill to utilize the word bloodbath for anything less major than literal bloodshed.
mess (noun): a failure or break-down in a remarkable or musical efficiency. In a general sense, an ignominious failure.
Fiasco comes from an Italian word significance “flask or bottle.” Nobody rather knows how it pertained to indicate a failure, but it obviously stemmed as theater slang. It has a connotation of humiliation, so it appears a proper choice for a political failure.
catastrophe (noun): An event or occurrence of a very stressful or crippling nature; a catastrophe; specifically a sudden mishap or natural disaster that causes terrific damage or death. The word went into English from Middle French desastre, “catastrophe, catastrophe, misfortune.”
mayhem (noun): the formless space thought to have existed before the production of the universe; prehistoric matter. In present usage, mayhem is used to describe any baffled, disordered state.
disaster (noun): a final event; a conclusion usually dissatisfied; an unexpected disaster, wide-spread, extremely deadly.
carnage (noun): the slaughter of a variety.
Like blood, carnage is a word to stimulate a visceral reaction. One envisions stacks of bloody bodies.
havoc (noun): devastation, damage.
The word comes from an expression, perhaps originally Germanic, that was used as the signal for the seizure of spoil, and so of general spoliation or pillage.
English speakers recognize with the line in Shakespeares Julius Caesar, spoken by Marc Antony as he imagines the killed Caesars spirit looking for revenge, “cry Havoc! and let slip the pet dogs of war.”
The verbs most commonly used with havoc are wreak and play.

A snowstorm wreaked havoc in Washington, nearly cancelling the inaugural parade.
The winds played havoc with any ball in the air, and likewise assisted alter the score.wreak and play.

ordeal (noun): an abrupt breaking up or failure; a confused rush or thrashing, a stampede.
Merriam-Webster defines ordeal as “a terrific disaster, a complete failure” and gives mess as a synonym. It appears that a fiasco would be much even worse than a mess. Consider its initial meaning as provided in the OED:
fiasco: A breaking up of ice in a river; in geology, an unexpected deluge or violent rush of water, which breaks down opposing barriers, and brings before it blocks of stone and other particles.
There are degrees of humiliation, catastrophe, and failure. Context needs to affect word-choice.

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No one quite understands how it came to imply a failure, but it obviously originated as theater slang. It has a connotation of humiliation, so it seems a suitable choice for a political failure.
Merriam-Webster specifies debacle as “a terrific disaster, a total failure” and offers fiasco as a synonym. It seems that a debacle would be much worse than a fiasco. Consider its original significance as given in the OED:

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