What's the relation of the word "fallout" with the hypothesis of a nuclear disaster? There is that famous game called "Fallout", and all the post-apocalyptic environment has its roots and causes in the word "fallout".

Is it corret to say:

The ideia of a nuclear fallout frightens everyone.


"fall + out" reminds a nuclear disaster? It makes no sense at all! Maybe the word "fall" carries some negativism by itself (downfall, for example), and the adjective "fallen", and everything related.

But it's still strange.

What are the meanings and usage of the word "fallout"?

  • 7
    -1 "What [is] the meaning ... 'fallout'? Why not look it up in a dictionary? Then, if it's still unclear, explain what you found and why it doesn't answer your question.
    – TrevorD
    Jul 17, 2013 at 23:50

3 Answers 3


If the nuclear blast occurs close enough to the ground, it will produce radioactive dust which will rise into the atmosphere as a cloud. The particles of dust will then fall out of the cloud and settle to the ground, causing radioactive contamination of the ground and objects over a wide area, even many miles from where the blast occurred. It is advisable to remain indoors as long as the fallout is actively coming down (about 2 weeks). After that, it is safe to move around outdoors but anything covered with fallout dust must not be touched and the top few inches of soil must be disposed of before planting or the food grown in it will become radioactive.

  • I understood it now the relation perfectly, thank you :). Jul 18, 2013 at 0:58

The term 'fallout' refers to the spread of nuclear radiation. From dictionary.com:

1. the settling to the ground of airborne particles ejected into the atmosphere from the earth by explosions, eruptions, forest fires, etc., especially such settling from nuclear explosions (radioactive fallout)

That's why 'fallout' is associated with a nuclear event. If you survived an atomic blast, you still had to worry about the fallout. It was the fallout that caused the longest-lasting damage to the surrounding area.


The term appears to originate with the nuclear era. Etymonline.com traces it from 1950 to mean

"radioactive particles," 1950, from fall (v.) + out (adv.).

The Compact OED defines it as

1 radioactive particles that are carried into the atmosphere after a nuclear explosion and gradually fall back as dust or in precipitation

[as modifier]: a fallout shelter

[usually with modifier] airborne substances resulting from an industrial process or accident: acid fallout from power stations

2 the adverse results of a situation or action:he’s prepared to take calculated risks regardless of political fallout

While it may have begun as a description of a nuclear explosive event, the metaphoric shock waves have carried it to other parlance.

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