scourge

If something makes people miserable or causes them great pain and torment, it's a scourge. A corrupt government is one kind of scourge, and a plague of insects that destroys a farmer's crops is another kind of scourge.

Dating from the 13th century, scourge originally meant "a whip used as punishment." It wasn't long until the figurative meaning of "something causing pain or misery" became even more common. A scourge tends to be something that causes folks to suffer terribly, whether it's a tsunami or unjust laws. You can also use this word as a verb: "Cutting the city's transportation budget will do nothing but scourge people without cars."

Definitions of scourge
  1. noun
    something causing misery or death
    synonyms: bane, curse, nemesis
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    types:
    blight
    something that spoils, destroys, or impairs
    type of:
    affliction
    a cause of great suffering and distress
  2. noun
    a person who inspires fear or dread
    synonyms: terror, threat
  3. noun
    a whip used to inflict punishment (often used for pedantic humor)
    synonyms: flagellum
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    type of:
    whip
    an instrument with a handle and a flexible lash that is used for whipping
  4. verb
    cause extensive destruction or ruin utterly
    synonyms: desolate, devastate, lay waste to, ravage, waste
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    types:
    ruin
    reduce to ruins
    type of:
    destroy, ruin
    destroy completely; damage irreparably
  5. verb
    punish severely; excoriate
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    type of:
    penalise, penalize, punish, sanction
    impose a penalty on; inflict punishment on
  6. verb
    whip
    synonyms: flagellate
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    type of:
    flog, lash, lather, slash, strap, trounce, welt, whip
    beat severely with a whip or rod
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