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

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Other Words from dismal

dismally \ ˈdiz-​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 The story on diversity is dismal: in March the Senior Foreign Service was 90% white and 69% male. The Economist, "Two new reports provide a road map for reforming American diplomacy," 21 Nov. 2020 He was named interim head coach after USU and Gary Andersen parted ways last week after the Aggies got off to a dismal 0-3 start. Julie Jag, The Salt Lake Tribune, "Utah State football working with many new parts vs. Wyoming," 17 Nov. 2020 The offense was especially dismal in the final two quarters. Edward Lee, baltimoresun.com, "Four takeaways from Maryland football’s 35-19 win against Penn State," 9 Nov. 2020 The game against the 5-1 Packers, winners of three straight against the Vikings, comes two days before a trade deadline that could reveal Minnesota’s true intentions after its dismal start. Ben Goessling, Star Tribune, "Next 10 weeks will be telling for Vikings," 26 Oct. 2020 The Pride suffered a dismal start against the Houston Dash last week, ceding two goals to the Challenge Cup champions in the first half. Julia Poe, orlandosentinel.com, "Orlando Pride eager to close season with win over North Carolina Courage," 16 Oct. 2020 Second-year coach Dana Holgorsen has plenty of returning starters but also a slew of newcomers after a dismal 4-8 start. G Smith, NOLA.com, "Game day breakdown: Tulane travels to Houston for another Thursday night clash," 7 Oct. 2020 He got hurt, and the Spartans finished a dismal 3-9. Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press, "Where the Michigan State football QB race stands with opener 3 weeks away," 2 Oct. 2020 Commissioner Gary Bettman was on hand to present the Lightning with the Stanley Cup exactly 200 days after his dismal if hopeful announcement that the season was being put on pause with 189 games left unplayed. Stephen Whyno, Houston Chronicle, "Bubble hockey champions: Tampa Bay Lightning win Stanley Cup," 28 Sep. 2020

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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Time Traveler for dismal

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

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Statistics for dismal

Last Updated

23 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Dismal.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dismal. Accessed 4 Dec. 2020.

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More Definitions for dismal


How to pronounce dismal (audio)

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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