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1. an event that causes serious damage, or causes a lot of people to suffer, for example a flood or fire

2. used humorously about something that is annoying but not really serious

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

Calamity comes from a Latin noun ‘calamitas’ meaning damage or disaster. It was first used in English in the late 15th century. The related adjective calamitous dates from the 16th century.


The death of Doris Day at the age of 97 has led to many affectionate recollections of her film career, including the 1953 musical Calamity Jane, based loosely on the life of the Wild West frontierswoman of the same name. Calamity Jane, real name Martha Jane Burke, claimed that the nickname was bestowed on her by a grateful colleague whom she rescued during a military skirmish with Native Americans. Doubts have been cast on all aspects of the story, but there’s no doubt that the nickname was a highly successful one that served her well in her later career as a performer in Buffalo Bill Hickok’s Wild West Show.


“A little learning, indeed, may be a dangerous thing, but the want of learning is a calamity to any people.”
(Frederick Douglass)

Related words

disaster, catastrophe, cataclysm

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

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