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Pronunciation: fee-æs-ko Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A complete, unmitigated, and disastrous failure.

Notes: Fiasco is a lexical orphan and an unusual word. It is unusual for such a short word in English to contain three vowels, all of which are pronounced. Remember that the [k] sound in this word is represented by a C and that the I (i) is pronounced the European way: [ee].

In Play: A fiasco is not simply a disaster but a failure on someone's part that leads to a disaster: "After the fiasco of her first book on how to read, few publishers were willing to take a chance on publishing the work of Rhoda Lott." Fiasco is a much stronger word than failure: "The Good Humor man's first venture ended in a fiasco when he parked his ice cream truck in the sun for four hours while visiting his mother."

Word History: Today's word originates in the Italian phrase fare fiasco "to make bottle, to fail". Some think this phrase is based on a translation of the French word bouteille "bottle", used to refer to speech errors committed by Italian actors on the 18th-century French stage, an oblique reference to drunkenness. Others speculate that "to make (a) bottle" meant to lose a game and have to pay for the next bottle of wine. No one knows for sure. The initial F suggests that Latin borrowed this word from the same Germanic word that produced German Flasche "bottle" and English flask. This word seems to have originally referred to the braided holder often placed around bottles (as on chianti bottles today). It originally meant "braid, plait" for it turns up in German as flechten "to braid", a word sharing its origin with English flax. (It would certainly be a dire fiasco of propriety to forget to thank Chris Stewart for suggesting today's extremely Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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