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Middle English deffeten, from Anglo-French defait, past participle of defaire, desfaire to destroy, from Medieval Latin disfacere, from Latin dis- + facere to do


  • 1: To unmake, undo, do away with; to ruin, destroy.
  • 2: To destroy the vigor or vitality of; to cause to waste or languish; pa. pple. wasted, withered.
  • 3: To destroy the beauty, form, or figure of; to disfigure, deface, spoil.
  • 4: Hunting. To cut up (an animal).
  • 5: To bring to nought, cause to fail, frustrate, nullify (a plan, purpose, scheme, etc.).
  • 6: Law. To render null and void, to annul.
  • 7: a. To do (a person) out of (something expected, or naturally coming to him); to disappoint, defraud, cheat.
b. To deprive of (something one already possesses); to dispossess.
  • 8: To discomfit or overthrow in a contest; to vanquish, beat, gain the victory over

For lessons on the related topic of Failure, follow this link.


Failure refers to the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective, and may be viewed as the opposite of success. Product failure ranges from failure to sell the product to fracture of the product, in the worst cases leading to personal injury, the province of forensic engineering.

Failure in science

Thomas J. Watson is attributed with saying "If you want to succeed, double your failure rate". Wired Magazine editor Kevin Kelly likewise explains that a great deal can be learned from things going unexpectedly, and that part of science's success comes from keeping blunders "small, manageable, constant, and trackable". He uses the example of engineers and programmers who push systems to their limits, breaking them to learn about them. Kelly also warns against creating a culture (e.g. school system) that punishes failure harshly, because this inhibits a creative process, and risks teaching people not to communicate important failures with others (e.g. Null results).

Criteria for failure

The criteria for failure are heavily dependent on context of use, and may be relative to a particular observer or belief system. A situation considered to be a failure by one might be considered a success by another, particularly in cases of direct competition or a zero-sum game. Similarly, the degree of success or failure in a situation may be differently viewed by distinct observers or participants, such that a situation that one considers to be a failure, another might consider to be a success, a qualified success or a neutral situation.

It may also be difficult or impossible to ascertain whether a situation meets criteria for failure or success due to ambiguous or ill-defined definition of those criteria. Finding useful and effective criteria, or heuristics, to judge the success or failure of a situation may itself be a significant task.[1]