dis·mal | \ ˈdiz-məl \

Definition of dismal 

1 obsolete : disastrous, dreadful

2 : showing or causing gloom (see gloom entry 2 sense 2) or depression the dismal prison twilight —Charles Dickens

3 : lacking merit : particularly bad a dismal performance

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Other words from dismal

dismally \-mə-lē \ adverb
dismalness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for dismal

dismal, dreary, bleak, gloomy, cheerless, desolate mean devoid of cheer or comfort. dismal indicates extreme and utterly depressing gloominess. dismal weather dreary, often interchangeable with dismal, emphasizes discouragement resulting from sustained dullness or futility. a dreary job bleak suggests chill, dull, and barren characteristics that utterly dishearten. the bleak years of the depression gloomy often suggests lack of hope or promise. gloomy war news cheerless stresses absence of anything cheering. a drab and cheerless office desolate adds an element of utter remoteness or lack of human contact to any already disheartening aspect. a desolate outpost

The Evil History of dismal

In late antiquity, certain days each month, called “Egyptian days,” were regarded as inauspicious, probably as a relic of ancient Egyptian belief. By the Middle Ages, people took them to be anniversaries of the Biblical plagues in Egypt. There were 24 such days per year, and in Anglo-French they were called collectively dismal (from Latin dies mali, “evil days”), and this word was borrowed into Middle English. In time the “evil days” sense was forgotten and dismal was simply taken to mean “disastrous.” The noun dismal, meaning “swamp,” goes back to the 1700s when the marshy region in Virginia and North Carolina was named the Great Dismal Swamp.

Examples of dismal in a Sentence

The show was a dismal failure. The team's record is dismal.

Recent Examples on the Web

Whitbeck has presided over a particularly dismal stretch for Virginia Republicans, who lost all three statewide offices last year and saw their overwhelming majority in the House of Delegates dwindle to the narrowest possible margin. Jenna Portnoy And Laura Vozzella, Washington Post, "Head of Virginia GOP steps down amid Corey Stewart’s Senate campaign," 30 June 2018 Denmark and France played out the first 0-0 draw of this World Cup in Moscow, in a rather dismal affair as both sides looked towards the rounds ahead. SI.com, "Denmark 0-0 France: Les Bleus Play Out World Cup's First Goalless Draw in Dire Denmark Tie," 26 June 2018 On Wednesday night, several public speakers told the council that the prospects for the November ballot measure looked very dismal if the list remained as proposed. Barbara Henry, sandiegouniontribune.com, "Encinitas council cuts two sites from high-density housing list," 21 June 2018 Perhaps public transport has come to seem relatively dismal because people have acquired better options. The Economist, "Public transport is in decline in many wealthy cities," 21 June 2018 This unsettling prevalence of assault and rape — which seems more necessary in a #MeToo world, but all the more brutal — is a large part of the truly dismal emotional cloud hanging over this season. refinery29.com, "13 Reasons Why Review: Season 2 Is Even Better Than The Last One," 16 May 2018 One ArtSy article from 2017 outlined the imbalanced economics of working in the art world, where the pay is often so dismal that young professionals have to rely on family members to supplement their income and living expenses. Anne Branigin, The Root, "Of Art and Plunder: Why Black Curators Are Still Shut Out of the Art World—and Why It Matters," 12 Apr. 2018 Courtney Barnett Wednesday, July 18, at the Truman Courtney Barnett is a ray of light in an otherwise dismal period for rock. Bill Brownlee, kansascity, "KC concerts July 12-18: Kenny Chesney, Imagine Dragons, Jason Isbell, Foreigner," 10 July 2018 Critics say the past three years have been particularly dismal for affordable housing in Sacramento, a city that had previously distinguished itself from affluent suburbs by requiring developers to accommodate low-income residents. Tony Bizjak And Ryan Lillis, sacbee, "Sacramento approved 5,500 housing units. Less than 100 were for low-income residents," 5 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'dismal.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of dismal

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for dismal

Middle English, from dismal, noun, days marked as unlucky in medieval calendars, from Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin dies mali, literally, evil days

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Statistics for dismal

Last Updated

13 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for dismal

The first known use of dismal was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for dismal



English Language Learners Definition of dismal

: showing or causing unhappiness or sad feelings : not warm, cheerful, etc.

: very bad or poor


dis·mal | \ ˈdiz-məl \

Kids Definition of dismal

: very gloomy dismal weather

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More from Merriam-Webster on dismal

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for dismal

Spanish Central: Translation of dismal

Nglish: Translation of dismal for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of dismal for Arabic Speakers

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