Fun Etymology Tuesday – Disaster

A late Tuesday FunEty for you, friends! Today’s word is “disaster”!

This word can refer to any unfortunate or ruinous event, and it’s origins is a bit all over the map (not really, but it does have multiple origins).

Partly, it’s a borrowing from French “desastre”, from Italian “disastro”, which in turn is modelled on an Occitan lexical item. For those of you who are, like i was before this post, somewhat unfamiliar with the Occitan language, it is a Romance language, spoken in southern France, Italy’s Occitan Valleys, Monaco and Spain’s Val d’Aran. Some also consider Catalan to be included. However, the unity of the Occitan language is a bit disputed, and some consider it a macrolanguage, that is, a language with widely varying dialects.

Anyway, back to “disaster”. So, Italian “disastro” can here be split into two: the prefix “dis-“, equivalent to English “mis-“ meaning ill, and “astro” from Latin “astrum”, meaning star. So, disaster could be translated, literally, to “ill-star(red)”.

So what about Occitan? Well, in Old Occitan, we find “desastre”, which is probably from Old Occitan “dezastruc”, which also meant “ill-starred” from late 12th century.

I hope you enjoyed that little trip, I know I did! Now, excuse me while I go read up some more on the Occitan language!

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