catastrophe vs. disaster

Discussion in 'English Only' started by One Heart, Jun 12, 2010.

  1. One Heart Senior Member

    Egyptian Arabic

    Is there any difference between catastrophe and disaster. I have checked my dictionary, but could not find any difference.

    Any idea?
  2. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    The only difference is in their etymology. Catastrophe derives from the Greek, disaster from Latin.
  3. One Heart Senior Member

    Egyptian Arabic
    Thank you, cyberpedant, for this piece of information!:)
  4. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    You are most welcome, One Heart.
  5. MilkyBarKid Senior Member

    British English
    The two are not interchangeable.
    Note that we have a genre of film called 'Disaster Movie' - not 'Catastrophe Movie', for instance.

    A hurricane hitting a town, with widespread damage to homes, might be regarded as a disaster.
    Hurricane Katrina, and such devastation that the levees broke, with the city underwater and New Orleans evacuated, is a catastrophe.
    A catastrophe is the severest kind of disaster.


    for the six ways they differ.
  6. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    I must humbly beg to differ.

    "Catastrophes are Different from Disasters:
    We will first use earlier examples of what were called disasters but in our terminology [emphasis mine] would better be treated as catastrophes.”

    While Dr. Quarantelli and his colleagues have every right to define their terms with augmented specificity, his terminology may not be accepted in general parlance, and indeed may never become part of a dictionary definition.

    To them, just as “disasters” are qualitatively different from everyday community emergencies, so are “catastrophes” a qualitative jump over “disasters”.... In less than a decade of field research it was conclusively documented that community disasters were qualitatively and quantitatively different from routine emergencies. [Emphasis mine] makes these distinctions:
    1. mischance, misfortune, misadventure, mishap, accident, blow, reverse, adversity, affliction. Disaster, calamity, catastrophe, cataclysm refer to adverse happenings often occurring suddenly and unexpectedly A disaster may be caused by carelessness, negligence, bad judgment, or the like, or by natural forces, as a hurricane or flood: a railroad disaster.... Catastrophe refers esp. to the tragic outcome of a personal or public situation; the emphasis is on the destruction or irreplaceable loss: the catastrophe of a defeat in battle.”
    Although there are differences cited, there is no mention of a scale of intensity, or "quality," and I doubt if anyone would have the above distinctions in mind when using these words.

    And to avoid the “AmE/BrE thing, here's what Oxford has to say:

    noun an event causing great damage or suffering.
    DERIVATIVES catastrophic adjective.
    ORIGIN Greek katastrophe ‘overturning, sudden turn’.

    noun 1 a sudden accident or a natural catastrophe that causes great damage or loss of life. 2 an event or fact leading to ruin or failure.
    ORIGIN Italian disastro ‘ill-starred event’, from Latin astrum ‘star’.
    It would seem that Oxford, while using these words as synonyms, considers “disaster” as the specifier of somewhat greater consequence.
  7. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    I have been called a walking disaster, but never a walking catastrophe.

Share This Page