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, you must remember that this word contains the prefix cata-, ending on an [a], not the [e] seen in category. Next you must remember this is an -ism word spelt with a [y]: -ysm (NO silent [e]). Finally, you have your choice of adjectives, cataclysmal or cataclysmic, both of which become adverbs with -ly attached to their end: cataclysmally or cataclysmically. Now that we know how to use it, let's hope we will never have to.

In Play: The last natural cataclysm (in the original sense) to visit the US was named Katrina, a hurricane that struck New Orleans in 2005 and all but decimated it. However, tsunamis also 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 2010 earthquake in Haiti was a cataclysm of the first magnitude for this small island nation." I am sure that all our hearts go out to the Haitians today, as well as all the aid that we can offer.

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 is akin to that in Latin cloaca "drain, sewer". The intensified meaning of this word fits the wake of the Haitian earthquake more tightly than catastrophe. (Today's word blew into to the fertile mind of our old friend, Susan Lister, as she watched the news of hurricane Rita's approach to our shores almost five years ago.)

Dr. Goodword,

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