Zoot Suit Debacles: Step Away from the Thesaurus
debacle n 1: a tumultuous breakup of ice in a river; 2: a violent disruption; 3a: a great disaster, or b: a complete failure.
I love the word debacle as well as the next person. It's fun to say—somewhat goofy sounding, yet descriptive. I have, in fact, used it in the past to describe most of the antics of my first roommante after college, the Mistress of Calamity, who was known to set our kitchen on fire by placing bags of potato chips on lit stovetop burners and who was also known to make up Imaginary Boyfriends with Imaginary Dogs who need to be taken to Imaginary Vet Appointments simply to get out of an afternoon of work so she could come home and either (A) ride her bike or (B) take a nap. In these instances, the events that followed the placing-of-chips-on-stove or the lying-to-boss-about-pretend-boyfriend's-dog are, I think, aptly described by the word debacle.
I do not think that, regardless of the multiple definitions Webster's affords us, I would have chosen to use debacle in the following context:
In 1943, Mexican gang members, known for wearing so-called zoot suits, clashed with white soldiers for eight nights in what is now called the zoot suit riots. Police arrested more than 600 Mexican American boys and men, most of whom were victims in the debacle.
I ask you, dear reader: whatever happened to connotation and denotation? While the denotation of debacle could certainly be applied to the 1943 riots, something about the connotation might prompt me to go with a more weighty or grave word, like mayhem or rout or even something as simple as conflict. Or perhaps just come out and say that the boys and men were "victims of harsh police action," since that's what you're going on to imply. But debacle? Does the author even know, truly, what debacle means?
Frankly, the whole incident smacks of Wanton Thesaurus Use, offering Attentive Citizens of the World yet another reason to avoid placing a thesaurus in the hands of a Would-Be Author hell-bent on using it. It's dangerous. It may be habit forming. It could, in fact, result in an excess of debacles. Or beatings. Or breakdowns, collapses, crack-ups, defeasances, defeats, devastations, disasters, dissolution, downfalls, failures, fiascos, overthrows, ruinations, shellackings, smashups, trouncings, vanquishments, or washouts.
Or "zoot suit debacles."
Remember, friends don't let friends engage in Wanton Thesaurus Use.