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A catastrophe is an event causing great and usually sudden damage or suffering; It is negative in nature.

Is there a word which is antonymic to catastrophe, but positive/"good" in nature? I.e a word for a positive event with far reaching positive consequences/benefits for many groups of people/targets, not just a select few. This event should be large in scope/effect, and the consequences needn't be sudden, as in the case of "catastrophe". The word should also be active/"violent" in mood/nature, not passive, like "boon", "fortune", or "phenomenon." It must be extreme.

An example:

The once-in-a-million-years meteor, rich in rare minerals, was a (positive antonym to catastrophe) for the FooBar Mining Colony; inspiring long lasting changes in their governance, economy, and society."

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    Start with the antonyms of catastrophe. Then tell us why or why not any of those work. There are lots of words on or near the 'good event/bad event' spectrum so there's no likely best one. The difficulty with catastrophe, as opposed to just disaster or failure, is that it has connotations of extremity that I don't find in that antonym list. So you may be out of luck for the perfect antonym.
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 18:55
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    @JohnLawler Even if it is ungainly, eucatastrophe is not without prior art. :)
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 0:53
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    @hyderallie28475 That lack probably implies that there is no antonym of the kind that you desire. No guarantee either way. I'd guess that there won't be one since such instances (extremely good events to the same extent as 'catastrophe' is bad) just doesn't match what we feel about events in real life. 'Winning the lottery' is a common phrase that comes close (but still not as good as catastrophe is bad).
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 14:04
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    just noticed... Mari-lou's answer is probably the extreme you're looking for.
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 14:06
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    Benestrophe, perhaps.
    – bishop
    Commented Oct 1, 2022 at 4:59

9 Answers 9

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paradigm shift

noun

a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.

"geophysical evidence supporting Wegener's theory led to a rapid paradigm shift in the earth sciences"


This is not a direct antonym, and I think it is no accident that there is no such word: because positive-catastrophes are impossible in the real, physical world. We don't have a word for it because the course of history has never required one, and probably never will -- on Earth or in any civilization anywhere, anywhen in this universe.

(This is a fascinating realization for me, which is which is why I'm even bothering to post an answer that I suspect will be poorly received here.)

Your criteria are:

  • sudden / active / "violent" in nature
  • great / extreme
  • has far-reaching consequences
  • positive in effect

In a world governed by physics, that last item is a deal-breaker. You will never find it coupled with all of the others.

It is easier to destroy than create. That's because of entropy: order inevitably decays into disorder, creating order requires adding energy, and even when you add energy, it will reduce the amount of order unless the energy is added in the form of useful work. Blindly adding energy will always only wreck stuff.

E.g., when tectonic plates shift suddenly, they release a lot of energy, but that energy is released in a chaotic way that reduces order in the surrounding area, tending to undo the beneficial work of living creatures. Without exception, all large-scale physical events in history are similar: volcanic eruptions, meteor impacts, rock slides, etc.

In the physical world, "suddenness" always takes destructive forms, because the laws of thermodynamics do not facilitate massive, sudden and orderly transfers of energy. This is why it's possible to build a single device that can instantly vaporize an entire city, but it's impossible to build a device that could instantly take out everybody's garbage.


The closest thing to an exception I can think of is when a body of water expands outside its current bounds, irrigating a larger area, e.g. the Zanclean flood, or Black Sea deluge. I discount these because they are not sudden -- estimates for both events are around one year of continuous action, and not unambiguously good -- both floods were initially quite destructive, with the benefits of irrigation manifesting months or years later.

This matters because "goodness" for living creatures is almost always coupled with some form of order. Try watching the BBC Earth series with entropy in mind, and you'll recognize countless examples of life forms either benefiting from some pocket of serendipitous order, or working hard to create order (for a benefit that is often obvious), whether it's fish who rearrange shells on the ocean floor, or birds who tidy up a patch in the jungle for a mating dance, or chipmunks and squirrels collecting nuts for the winter, or birds constructing nests. Almost all the things valued by living creatures are, at some level of analysis, pockets of ordered matter among the general disorder.

When energy is added to a system chaotically, it never creates, and always eliminates, pockets of order. Whether we bother to call that event "damage" generally depends only on whether we had any interest in the pockets of order that were eliminated.

So, why "paradigm shift?"

Because all of the above applies to the physical world but not the mental one. It is thanks to the laws of thermodynamics that humanity's physical history can be characterized as a series of sudden, destructive moments separated by long periods of slow, necessarily local (re-)building, with never a single instance of a large pocket of useful order appearing in an instant. But our intellectual history does indeed feature sudden (even "violent") events of far-reaching and positive consequence. For example:

Rather than physical inventions, I deliberately focus on instances where an idea is either formed or proven suddenly, which immediately transforms every society that accepts it. The printing press is the unique exception because mass printing is very pointedly a mechanism that accelerates the accurate spread of knowledge, and building just a single printing press can change the host society, which is not true of, e.g., the steam engine, automobiles, telephones, or even electronics, all of which require not only ideas but also the manufacture of many such devices. That is, it does not really change society if you build just one car, or telephone, or computer. By contrast, it will change society if you tell just one person how to cure scurvy, a disease which killed more seafarers during the Age of Sail than all other causes of death combined. "One weird trick" can keep your sailor alive and sane for an entire voyage.

"Paradigm shift" is a term that is popularly applied to any sudden, rapid, and beneficial change to human understanding.

To be sure, very many developments in humanity's intellectual history have been slow rather than sudden, or harmful rather than positive, or local in effect rather than far-reaching.

All big, sudden, and far-reaching changes in the physical world have been and will always be considered harmful. All big, sudden, and far-reaching positive changes have been and will always be mental.

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    I like your answer, but I feel like there are examples of a positive event that matches this nature (depending on your perspective): The Columbian Exchange, and in that case I'd use the sentence: "While a catastrophe for Native Americans, the discovery of the New World by Europeans was a [windfall] for colonial powers". Another would be the hajj of Mansa Musa, which I would say was also a "windfall" for Egypt Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 14:56
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    Insightful. Two events come to mind that are sudden, great, far-reaching and might be positive: extraterrestrial contact and the singularity. Perhaps on the mental more than the physical side. We'll see, when they happen. ;-)
    – Pablo H
    Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 14:26
  • A paradigm shift can be bad or good, depending on your perspective. For example, the switch to electronic cameras and phones with same was positive for some, but it put traditional film manufacture out of business and all those employees out of work.
    – Robusto
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 15:08
  • @Robusto Agreed. I was trying to make room for that in the penultimate paragraph, and by carefully crafting the final sentence.
    – Tom
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 16:24
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I think what you really might want is windfall:

windfall n

  1. A sudden, unexpected piece of good fortune or financial gain.
    TFD Online

It better opposes catastrophe in that it is sudden and extreme but positive.

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    A windfall = a good piece of luck; is sudden, extreme, positive but rarely long-lasting.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 14:00
  • Just FTR it's strange to describe a windfall as "rarely long lasting".
    – Fattie
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 17:30
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    OP - While this perfectly fits the example given by you, OP, it's worth nothing that there is no "positive antonym to catastrophe" and "windfall" is not in any way a "positive antonym to catastrophe". (Windfall is a word, that might be used, in some few certain cases, when talking about the "opposite of some specific catastrophe.")
    – Fattie
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 17:35
  • You might as well explain exactly what you mean by antonym then, because there doesn't seem to be a serviceable, universal definition of that here on EL&U. See Lawler's comment on this.
    – Robusto
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 21:42
  • Windfalls - thinking of apples here - are hardly extreme! It's just too bathetic and lacking in agency to be an antonym of catastrophe, to my mind.
    – Dan
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 23:31
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For his own purposes, the linguist, philologist, and author JRR Tolkien coined the word eucatastrophe for precisely this use. Google (pulling from Oxford Languages) provides the definition “a sudden and favourable resolution of events in a story; a happy ending”. However, almost all search results mention Tolkien, which shows that it has not yet gained widespread acceptance or an independent existence. Still, it may suffice for your needs.

(If you want to see how Tolkien himself used the word, his essay “On Fairy Stories” is a good start.)

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    Although this fulfills the criteria, the OED notes This word belongs in Frequency Band 2. Band 2 contains words which occur fewer than 0.01 times per million words in typical modern English usage. These are almost exclusively terms which are not part of normal discourse and would be unknown to most people.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Oct 1, 2022 at 19:43
  • The AV Club's review of the latest Rings of Power episode (set in Tolkein's fictional world) uses the word 'eucatastrophe' (which I'd never heard of before). I'm not sure if the timing lines up for the author to have learned the word from this answer, or vice versa, or if it's just a nice coincidence.
    – dbmag9
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 20:27
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The OP will probably have to use a metaphor, such as

the extraordinary [event/discovery] was metaphorically speaking, and literally, a goldmine for the FooBar mining colony.

The term miracle would also work. Religious texts inform us that miracles have far-reaching, long-term consequences.

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    'Miracle' is probably best candidate for an antonym to 'catastrophe'. But it does have range in "effect" (there're little miracles) that 'catastrophe' does not (always big effect).
    – Pablo H
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 17:21
  • Miracle works well. It's rightness is possibly clearer adjectivally - a catastrophic / miraculous event.
    – Dan
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 23:25
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boon (noun, sense 1 of 2; Merriam-Webster)

1: a timely benefit : BLESSING
a boon to new homeowners
The rain was a boon for parched crops.

synonym: godsend (Oxford Languages, Thesaurus.com, WordHippo, etc.)

Examples:

India's early and deadly monsoon season a boon for agriculture (TheWorld)

In other news, rescuers in China have to drain over 12 million cubic metres of water out of a single mine, what a calamity; but the paddy fields are great, what a boon.

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  • "Boon" is an "event" which targets only one specific thing/group of people, in your answers' examples: new homeowners, parched crops.
    – Derpitron
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 7:34
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    The example sentence ruined the question, +1
    – Mazura
    Commented Oct 1, 2022 at 2:14
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bonanza

Similar connotation to jackpot or goldmine I suppose. This phrase has stuck with me for decades: An author described some sort of Ponzi scheme involving mailing items of value as "a bonanza for the US Postal Service."

Interestingly bonanza appears to derive from mining, as does goldmine; however, because it's less common, I think it's less apt to be taken literally than goldmine in your example sentence.

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The word jackpot, as in hit (the) jackpot does not quite fit your "definitions", but fits reasonably well in your example:

The FooBar Mining Colony hit jackpot with the once-in-a-million-years meteor, rich in rare minerals; furthering long lasting changes in their governance, economy, and society.

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Certainly. Depending on the context, one of the following might do.

phenomenon, blockbuster, hit, smash, success

Without an example sentence, it's a bit hard to map event into a more specific response.

MW

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  • The words outlined here don't fit what exactly I'm looking for. They define a positive event, but not necessarily with far reaching consequences. "Phenomenon" can also have a neutral meaning
    – Derpitron
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 7:32
  • I have added an example sentence to my question which highlights the meaning I am looking for.
    – Derpitron
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 7:54
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    I know "smash" and "hit" have positive connotations, but referring to a world or a hugely beneficial natural or manmade event, they simply do not work.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 8:40
  • Given the example sentence, I've upvoted boon as the best fit.
    – jimm101
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 12:34
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    @jimm101 Sorry to say phenomenon, blockbuster, hit, smash, success and anything similar are not comparable to 'catastrophe(s)', neither positively as synonyms nor negatively as antonyms. They're simply not on similar levels… Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 21:13
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Best case scenario might fit as well.

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