disaster

 

A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611) - Randle Cotgrave

A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), by Randle Cotgrave

 

 

The noun disaster, via French désastre, is from Italian disastro. This Italian word was thus defined by John Florio in his Italian-English dictionary A Worlde of Wordes (1598):

disastre, mischance, ill luck.

And the definition of French astre given by Randle Cotgrave in A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611) is:

A star, a planet; also, destiny, fate, fortune, hap.

 

Italian disastro literally means evil star. It is composed of:

- the prefix dis-, which in this instance implies pejoration (it is equivalent to the English prefix mis-, meaning ill, as in misfortune)

- and astro, star, planet, from Latin astrum, corresponding to Greek ἄστρον (astron).

 

Similarly, in Catalan, malastre, meaning disaster, calamity, is composed of the prefix mal-, ill, and astre, star, planet.

 

Also based on astrological belief, English ill-starred literally means born under, or having one’s fortunes governed by, an evil star.

French être né(e) sous une bonne/mauvaise étoile is the equivalent of to be born under a lucky/unlucky star (bonne and mauvaise mean good and bad).

German has the nouns:

- Desaster, meaning disaster, borrowed from French désastre,

- and Unstern, from Unglücksstern, both meaning unlucky star.

 

From astrum, Late Latin had the adjective astrosus, born under an evil star, ill-starred.

Derived from this, Spanish astroso originally meant unhappy, unfortunate, wretched. It now means vile, base, despicable, as well as dirty, untidy, and ragged, unkempt.

 

In Catalan, malastruc, composed of malastre and the suffix -uc, means unfortunate, unhappy, and which brings bad luck.

The adjective astruc, from the noun astre, to which has been suffixed -uc, means lucky, fortunate.

It is synonymous with benastruc (the prefix ben- is from Latin bene, well).

Similarly, French malotru originally meant unfortunate. It later took the senses of ill-favoured, badly-built, and of oafish, coarse, hence its current meaning, loutish.

 

Shakespeare was the first user of disaster in literature. In The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (1600), the word has the sense of an unfavourable aspect of a star or planet (in this instance, the Sun):

In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets;
As stars with trains of fire, and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star
Upon whose influence Neptune’s empire stands
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse.
And even the like precurse of fierce events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
Unto our climature and countrymen.

In The Tragedy of King Lear (1605), although Shakespeare used disaster in its current sense, he still related it closely to the influence of the stars and planets:

This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are
sick in fortune, often the surfeit of our own behaviour, we make
guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars
; as if

we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion;
knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical pre-dominance;
drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforc’d obedience of
planetary influence.

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