This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Sunday Rest: Word Not To Use Today: debacle.

I love the way that English steals words from all over the place and then misuses them with such verve and enthusiasm.

I love the way that French involves speaking-very-fast-and-rather-like-a-machine GUN, too.

The trouble is that when English steals from French we sometimes end up with a word that we can't use unless we're prepared for  machine gun fire to erupt most uncomfortably in the middle of a perfectly ordinary sentence.

Debacle is a beautiful French word, but to make it fit comfortably into an English sentence you have to say it dayBARKle, which is ridiculous.

Now, a debacle is never a ridiculous thing (it can be a chaotic  collapse or retreat, or the floods caused by the breaking up of ice in spring, or a violent debris-charged rush of water).

But, let's face it, a dayBARKle sounds as if someone's lost a sock, or forgotten the password to a supermarket account.

All that weight of tumultuous fate dwindled to...well, something small and annoying, like a dripping tap.


Word Not To Use Today in English: debacle. Before this word was French, débâcle, it came from the Old French desbacler, to unbolt, from the Latin baculum, a rod or staff.


  1. I have mixed comments about using French words which have an accent in the original. Are you supposed to use it, or not? Esp. if the word is now actually an English word, like, precisely DEBACLE! Which is a word I like a lot!

  2. Yes - I spent far too much of my youth trying to say J'habite en Hemel Hempstead in a convincing way!