1. a large amount of snow and ice that suddenly falls down a mountain
2. a large quantity of similar things that happen within a short time
Origin and usage
Avalanche comes from the French word ‘avalanche’ which may be an alteration of an Alpine dialect word, ‘lavanche’. Its origin is unknown, but it is very similar to the Italian ‘valanga’. It was first used in English in the 1770s, by writers giving accounts of avalanches they had seen on their travels. The metaphorical use comes from the middle of the 19th century, when one of the first people recorded as having used it was Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’.
Avalanches present a risk to anyone who spends time high in the mountains, especially in winter or spring. Their suddenness, together with the fact that they gather material as they move, means that anyone who finds themselves in the path of an avalanche is in great danger of being swept up in it. This characteristic has passed over into the figurative use, where an avalanche of things threatens to overwhelm those in receipt of them. Typical things that are spoken of as coming in an avalanche are criticism, propaganda, publicity and accusations. People also talk about an avalanche of emails or paperwork, meaning a quantity of them that is almost impossible to deal with.
“The one certainty for anyone in the path of an avalanche is this: standing still is not an option.”
cascade, flood, spate