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

Definition of dismal

1 : showing or causing gloom (see gloom entry 2 sense 2) or depression the dismal prison twilight— Charles Dickens
2 : lacking merit : particularly bad a dismal performance
3 obsolete : disastrous, dreadful

Other Words from dismal

dismally \ ˈdiz-​mə-​lē How to pronounce dismal (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 The weather warning, however could be especially dire for some Michigan residents as the cold, combined with the dismal record of Michigan's largest utilities to maintain power lines as the state has been battered with severe weather. Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press, 5 Jan. 2022 Corruption also plays a key role in the country’s dismal record on prosecuting human traffickers. Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times, 10 Dec. 2021 In remarks before the vote, Houck stressed PG&E’s dismal safety record of the past decade, which includes responsibility for several catastrophes that have killed more than 100 people. J.d. Morris, San Francisco Chronicle, 2 Dec. 2021 The team’s dismal record made such a foray unlikely, but Lowry wanted to stay true to his word in seeing the season through. New York Times, 21 Oct. 2021 Last season’s dismal 20-52 record would have been a 22.8-win pace over an 82 game schedule, and the Pistons had to really work to keep their wins low. Duncan Smith, Forbes, 13 Oct. 2021 The Dolphins have a dismal record in Tampa Bay, and nothing is going right for Miami’s offense. Keven Lerner, sun-sentinel.com, 7 Oct. 2021 From 2011 until 2019, Guyton scored just two minor hit singles — a dismal track record that would get many young artists dropped from their contracts. Dallas News, 16 Sep. 2021 Only three countries recognized the movement of religious warriors, because of their treatment of women, dismal human rights record and their provision of safe haven to al Qaeda. Peter Bergen, CNN, 19 Aug. 2021

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 3

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

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Last Updated

16 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Dismal.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dismal. Accessed 24 Jan. 2022.

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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

More from Merriam-Webster on dismal

Nglish: Translation of dismal for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of dismal for Arabic Speakers


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