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When Things Go Very, Very Wrong


Getting arrested for driving drunk and drag racing on a main thoroughfare in a rented sports car is a bit of fiasco. Pop singer Justin Bieber might have a different word for it. Here, he appears via video conference in his first court appearance in Miami, Florida, January 2014. (REUTERS FILE PHOTO)

Getting arrested for driving drunk and drag racing on a main thoroughfare in a rented sports car is a bit of fiasco. Pop singer Justin Bieber might have a different word for it. Here, he appears via video conference in his first court appearance in Miami, Florida, January 2014. (REUTERS FILE PHOTO)


Welcome to VOA Learning English’s program Words and Their Stories.

Life is not perfect. Things go wrong. We make mistakes. We have mishaps and failures.

But mistakes, mishaps and failures are nothing compared to a fiasco!

A fiasco is something that goes completely wrong often in a ridiculous or embarrassing way. It is dramatic and sometimes absurd. These are all important words when talking about fiascos. They are what make fiascos different from other types of failures.

Fiasco is an Italian word meaning “bottle.” The Italians use the word fiasco in a phrase that literally means “to make a bottle.” But Italians also use it to mean “a dramatic mess.” Many word experts are not sure why “making a bottle” means something is a complete failure.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “fiasco” entered English in the mid-1800s. At that time it meant a “breakdown in a dramatic or musical performance.” Basically, a theatrical screw up.

Perhaps the best way to explain fiasco is with a story.

Our story begins at an outdoor wedding. A beautiful tent is set up outside. A group of jazz musicians are playing. And 100 guests are dressed in their best clothes.

Unfortunately, the bride’s best friend, the maid of honor, is sick. She is taking lots of medication. She also never drinks alcohol. But today, she celebrates her best friend’s marriage with a glass of champagne.

The mixture of alcohol and medicine affects her terribly. Not realizing what she is doing, she dances wildly on the dance floor. She yells loudly, “I love these two people!”

This usually would not be a problem. But her timing is bad. She interrupts the bride and groom during their first traditional dance as man and wife.

People laugh nervously. Perhaps they think this is part of the ceremony. So, this is a faux pas, a mistake. But the wedding is not a wreck or a disaster. It can be fixed.

We are still far from a fiasco.

But as the best man leads the maid of honor back to her seat, his foot catches on the tablecloth. Candles fall and catch the tablecloth on fire. The fire quickly spreads to the curtains. People jump up, screaming.

Just then a fire truck appears. As a dozen firemen run into the tent, they knock over the four-story, $2000 wedding cake.

The cake crashes to the floor. The firemen slip on the cake. Then their hose trips a group of people who fall backward into the bird cage. The birds -- meant to celebrate peace and love -- are now freaking out and flying into people’s hair.

Now the wedding is a disaster, but still not fiasco.

The maid of honor flees the scene in the expensive, rental bridal car. But a rope from the tent gets caught in the door. As she pushes hard on the gas pedal, the tent crashes to the ground with all the guests and birds still under it.

The entire wedding party and a flock of frightened birds escape from under the tent just as the rental car drives into the lake. They all run over to see if the maid of honor is okay.

But with too many people standing on the wooden pier, the dock breaks. Dozens of wedding guests splash into the lake.

Welcome to the world of FIASCO!

No one is hurt. People often aren’t seriously hurt in a fiasco. That would make it a tragedy. But it is safe to say that this wedding is a fiasco!

Fiascos may be complete failures. But sometimes they are our best stories.

I’m Anna Matteo.

Have you ever had a fiasco happen to you? Let us know in the comments section.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

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Words in This Story

ridiculous – adj. extremely silly or unreasonable

embarrassing – adj. to make (someone) feel confused and foolish in front of other people

dramatic – adj. attracting attention

absurd – adj. extremely silly, foolish, or unreasonable

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