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Are there any English words that mean "an unlikely calamity" in that same way that "miracle" can mean "an unlikely beneficial event"? My thesaurus only provides antonyms of "miracle" that mean "a mundane event" rather than "a horrible event".

I'm thinking specifically of multiple unlikely failures occurring simultaneously: I suffer an unlikely injury that leaves me unable to leave the house and my usually-reliable telephone service suddenly cuts out for the day, so I can't phone for help.

Words like "catastrophe" and "calamity" seem too general, since I'd like to express the exceptional unlikelihood of the event (or events). The best I have is a descriptive phrase like "disastrous coincidence," but I'd prefer a single word.

Overtones of the divine or demonic are not required, but preferred.

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+1, good question! Now you've got us wondering. – Adam Mosheh Jul 16 '12 at 20:57
How about "misfortune"? This word is referred to an evil accident. – user19148 Jul 16 '12 at 21:06
Since you have this tagged as religion, is this word supposed to refer to the idea of a punishment as opposed to miracle being a blessing? Or is it something that is unfortunate based only on the statistical improbability of the event? – WLPhoenix Jul 16 '12 at 21:15
@WLPhoenix - it would be extremely complicated to answer to the question in the light of religion studies. – user19148 Jul 16 '12 at 21:20
up vote 10 down vote accepted

Disaster is very close in root meaning to what you're looking for, describing as it does an "ill-starred" event.

Debacle has the advantage of looking like an antonym to "miracle".

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'catastrophe' has the same kind of etymology. – Mitch Jul 16 '12 at 21:49
+1 - "Ill-starred event" is much better than any phrases I came up with, since it communicates a negative outcome along with the suggestion of the supernatural. – apsillers Jul 16 '12 at 21:53

Miracle is still the right word. As Terry Pratchett puts it,

“Whatever happens, they say afterwards, it must have been Fate. People are always a little confused about this, as they are in the case of miracles. When someone is saved from certain death by a strange concatenation of circumstances, they say that's a miracle. But of course if someone is killed by a freak chain of events : the oil just spilled there, the safety fence just broke there : that must also be a miracle. Just because its not nice doesn't mean its not miraculous.”

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Or one might say, in terms of battles, a 'miracle' happened to both sides, just more favorably for one rather than the other. – Mitch Jul 16 '12 at 21:50
+1 - This was a point I had considered when I looked at all the definitions for "miracle", but the Pratchett quote does a magnificent job of articulating it. – apsillers Jul 16 '12 at 21:50
Yeah, he's very good that way. – John Lawler Jul 16 '12 at 22:02

“Act of God” is sometimes used in English law for an event that is not reasonable to predict, for example flooding in a area that does not normally get flooding.

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I favour the use of the word cataclysm to convey the meaning as you have described it i.e. antonym to Miracle.

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Consider force majeure ("an overwhelming force" or "an unavoidable catastrophe") and act of God ("an unforeseen occurrence beyond one's control, such as a natural disaster"). Also consider slightly-related idioms or phrases like chain of events, road to ruin, snowball, runaway train and booby trap ("an unforeseen or unexpected or surprising difficulty").

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If the event is relatively small in scale, e.g. affecting a person or a few people rather than a country, "freak accident" may be applicable:

An incident, especially one that is harmful, occurring under highly unusual and unlikely circumstances.


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inexplicable catastrophe

To the use of miracle for both good and bad, I suggest that only works when the reader understands the lexicographic definition. And I'm afraid the vast majority of mankind does not.

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Welcome to the site! Are you suggesting that most people do not understand that a miracle is generally-good? – New Alexandria Sep 12 '13 at 18:57

I think it would have to be Curse.

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Hi Shawn, welcome to EL&U. Could you elaborate on your answer? Why do you think the opposite of miracle is curse? – Adam Sep 18 '15 at 8:21

Tragedy.If Miracle is unexplained welcome event so is the Tragedy opposite of it.

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protected by tchrist Sep 18 '15 at 4:54

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