Learn easily Greek via the linguistic relationships and the roots of the English words.

Etymology of disaster

Posted by Johannes on 19 February 2011

Origin of the word disaster

The word disaster comes from the Middle French désastre from the old Italian disastro, which  comes from the Greek pejorative prefix dis– (bad; Gr: δυσ-) + aster (star; Gr: ἀστήρ). So disaster lit. means “bad star”. The sense is astrological, of a calamity blamed on an unfavorable position of a planet.

In modern Greek:
a) asteri or aster: star [Gr: αστέρι or αστήρ]



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4 Responses to “Etymology of disaster”

  1. apollon said

    The Greek pejorative prefix dis- doesn’t mean BAD.

    The etymology is wrong. This is the right one:

    “dis”: in Hellenics doesn’t mean bad….
    “dys”=”bad” (examples: ΔΥΣ-ΟΙΩΝΟ=bad-omen, ΔΥΣ-ΑΝΑΛΟΓΟ=bad-analogy, ΔΥΣ-ΘΕΟΡΑΤΟ=badly-huge, etc), dyschromatopsia, dyschylia, dysentery, dyslexia, dysmorphia, dysodia, dyspepsia, dyspnea (& a lot more, almost all medical which expresses dys-functionality [dysfunction=BAD function]).

    “dis”: It comes from the number 2=ΔΥΟ; Hellenics: “DIS=ΔΙΣ=TWO TIMES” or DOUBLE(=ΔΙΠΛΟ), distichiasis, distichon, distigmatic, disyllavism, dissyllable, ditheism, dithematic, dithyramp, dithyrous, ditokous.

    STAR=ΑΣΤΗΡ (Hellenics),

    So, disaster, is the “DIS+ΑΣΤΗΡ”=”DIS-ASTER”=”DOUBLE-STAR”.

    Two stars together AT THE SAME TIME, something unusual CLOSE TO EARTH, that causes tremendous (hel. δραματικές) catastrophes (hel. καταστροφές). It was known among ages, that this happens occasionally and the one of these two stars was the Sun; guess the other one…

    By your explenation, shouldn’t be “disaster”, but “dysaster”… 😦

    • Bhat Yasin said


    • Except the word is in English and its immediate etymological antecedents are Middle French and Italian. The prefix dis- is the English form of a Latin prefix (meaning “apart,” “asunder,” “away,” “utterly,” or having a privative, negative, or reversing force) that has come through Middle French (désastre) and Italian (disastro), not from the Greek. Other words using this prefix are disability; disaffirm; disbar; disbelief; discontent; dishearten; dislike; disown.

    • Sorry, you make a very well-informed argument, but you are incorrect. Etymology includes more than spelling. The history of the word absolutely goes from the Greek above to old Italian “disastro” and old French “désastre”, each meaning “bad star”.

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