Word for Wednesday: Disaster

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Do you know the term ‘star-crossed’?

You may have come across it in the opening of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:


Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventur'd piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents' strife.


Romeo And Juliet Prologue, 1–8

If you are 'star-crossed' it means you are doomed. In Romeo and Juliet, you find out how the story ends right in the first scene. The tragedy comes not only from the young couple killing themselves, but also from the inevitability of this happening. Their fate was written in the stars. There is no other possible outcome. 

People have long studied the stars and planets in attempt to interpret their influence on human affairs. While the word disaster is no longer linked to a fate predetermined by the position of celestial bodies, it still shares a sense of great catastrophe with ‘star-crossed’. Today, the word is used to describe events that result in great misfortune, loss, or ruin. 

Disaster entered English in the 1590s via the Middle French ‘désastre’, which in turn came from the Italian ‘disastro’. If you split the word into two parts, you can work out its meaning: dis- means ‘lack of’ or ‘not’ (and here is used like the English prefix mis- meaning ‘ill’) and -astro means ‘star’. Together, then, disastro means ‘ill-starred’. 




Sources: The Online Etymology Dictionary

15 Jan 2020
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