dis·​mal | \ ˈdiz-məl How to pronounce dismal (audio) \

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 How to pronounce dismally (audio) \ 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

Last year was a dismal one for China’s gaming giant Tencent. Jacky Wong, WSJ, "Tencent Looks for Life Beyond Gaming," 21 Mar. 2019 Pellegrino was sacked in March of this year after a dismal run of one victory in 17 matches saw his team involved in a relegation battle. SI.com, "Southampton Forward Guido Carrillo Joins La Liga Club CD Leganes on Season-Long Loan," 8 July 2018 In the opening moments of the new trailer, Elsa stands on the shore of a dismal, gray beach. Alexis Jones, Harper's BAZAAR, "Frozen 2: Everything You Need to Know," 14 Feb. 2019 Still, even with Lodeiro, the Sounders had been hard-pressed to score throughout a dismal first half of the season preceding the arrival of July transfer Ruidiaz. Geoff Baker, The Seattle Times, "Sounders get needed early goal en route to blowout of Houston," 8 Oct. 2018 After a dismal first half of the year, bitcoin has shown signs of life in recent weeks. Steven Russolillo, WSJ, "Is Bitcoin Back? Cryptocurrency Crosses $8,000 for First Time in Two Months," 24 July 2018 After a dismal first half where both teams took turns playing lousy, the second half turned into a classic heavyweight bout. Al Saracevic, San Francisco Chronicle, "Warriors in a tough spot: The brink of elimination," 24 May 2018 But a dismal first half doomed the Blazers, who surrendered home-court advantage with the loss. Sean Meagher, OregonLive.com, "Damian Lillard after Trail Blazers drop Game 1: 'We just didn't make shots'," 15 Apr. 2018 Saturday ended a valiant attempt to make the playoffs after a dismal first half of the season placed the Panthers 12 points out of a playoff spot at the All-Star break. Matthew Defranks, Sun-Sentinel.com, "After elimination in the afternoon, Panthers beat Sabres in home finale," 8 Apr. 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

29 Mar 2019

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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 How to pronounce dismal (audio) \

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

Comments on dismal

What made you want to look up dismal? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


an act or instance of returning to life

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