Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A violent upheaval that causes great destruction or brings about a fundamental change.
  • n. A violent and sudden change in the earth's crust.
  • n. A devastating flood.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A sudden, violent event.
  • n. A sudden and violent change in the earth's crust.
  • n. A great flood.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. An extensive overflow or sweeping flood of water; a deluge.
  • n. Any violent catastrophe, involving sudden and extensive changes of the earth's surface.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A deluge or an overflowing of water; a flood; specifically, the Noachian flood.
  • n. In geology, an inundation or deluge, or other violent and sudden physical action of great extent, supposed to have been the efficient cause of various phenomena (as of the deposition of different formations of diluvium or drift) for which the gradual action of moderate currents, or that of ice, is considered to have been inadequate.
  • n. Figuratively, a sudden or violent action of overwhelming force and extended sweep.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a sudden violent change in the earth's surface
  • n. an event resulting in great loss and misfortune

Etymologies

French cataclysme, from Latin cataclysmos, deluge, from Greek kataklusmos, from katakluzein, to inundate : kata-, intensive pref.; see cata- + kluzein, to wash away.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
French cataclysme, from Latin cataclysmos, from Ancient Greek κατακλυσμός (kataklysmos, "deluge, flood"), from κατακλύζω (kataklyzo, "to dash over, flood, deluge, inundate"), from κατά (kata, "downwards, towards") + κλύζω (klyzo, "to wash off, to wash away, to dash over"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • Some people swore the year 2000 would bring technological chaos, or an old-fashioned End of the Word cataclysm.

    Dancing with Werewolves

  • The much-debated computer worm may have headed off a conflagration that would have rendered the word cataclysm a pale understatement.

    Bradley Burston: Think Israel's a Lost Cause? Ten Reasons to Think Again

  • We appear to be headed for something where the word cataclysm seems terrifyingly appropriate.

    Kathy Freston: Avoiding an Environmental Apocalypse

  • Zizek is a believer in the Revolution at a time when almost nobody, not even on the left, thinks that such a cataclysm is any longer possible or even desirable.

    Žižek: Fascist? « Gerry Canavan

  • This utopian visionarism induced the artists to renounce figurative art methods in favor of the avant-garde modes of expressing a symbolic representation of the historic cataclysm, which is particularly typical for Genke and Shor.

    Artists: Russia and the Soviet Union.

  • He painted bleak gatherings of jobless men and he painted toppling skyscrapers that reveal a world in cataclysm.

    Jose Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera - The Murals

  • The fact that this was the site of the greatest explosion in modern recorded history was truly awe-inspiring -- that I was just a few miles away from the center of so vast a cataclysm was a simple fact that exerted a powerful hold on me, and has ever since.

    Krakatoa: Summary and book reviews of Krakatoa by Simon Winchester.

  • It may be that the cataclysm was a natural ebullition of human nature, and as a cause the economic rivalry may have been just as insignificant as the murder of the Archduke.

    A Dominie in Doubt

  • So it came about that the outcome of the cataclysm was a thing which happens often enough in a conventionalized world.

    The Grafters

  • It is also a post-Apocalyptic Earth, but in that case the cataclysm was a solar flare (known as "The Burn" rather than "The Flash") that turned the planet into a vast desert.

    Pajiba

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