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 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 Wisconsin reported its most dismal coronavirus numbers yet Tuesday as state health officials urged residents to leave home only when absolutely necessary and warned the crisis would continue escalating. Jessica Flores, USA TODAY, "Coronavirus updates: Wisconsin reports worst day of deaths, cases; 3 Western states join California vaccine review group; 226K US deaths," 28 Oct. 2020 Wisconsin reported its most dismal coronavirus numbers yet Tuesday as state health officials urged residents to leave home only when absolutely necessary and warned the crisis would continue escalating. Sophie Carson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "'It's a nightmare scenario:' Wisconsin reports more than 5,200 cases, 64 deaths in worst day of pandemic yet," 27 Oct. 2020 The dismal numbers reflect anxiety about university finances amid the pandemic, says Robert Zemsky, a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania who studies university finances. Katie Langin, Science | AAAS, "Amid pandemic, U.S. faculty job openings plummet," 6 Oct. 2020 Cargo traffic only goes so far to help American recover from dismal traffic numbers. Dallas News, "American Air adds hundreds of cargo-only flights in September to make up for lost revenue during pandemic," 18 Aug. 2020 Another batch of dismal jobless claims numbers could bring the sides closer together. Bernhard Warner, Fortune, "As gold strikes a record high, analysts think the rally has only just begun," 6 Aug. 2020 So then, there must be acknowledgement of the root cause of the dismal numbers and lack of substantial progress – no motivation to change the status quo. NBC News, "Easterseals CEO: 'Just because someone is different, it does not mean they are deficient'," 9 July 2020 But as restrictions eased, Trzaskowski replaced an earlier candidate fielded by his Civic Platform party who had dismal poll numbers, adding a new dynamic and suspense into the race. Vanessa Gera, Fox News, "Poland's presidential vote headed for runoff, exit poll shows," 29 June 2020 After a mild Christmas Eve across much of the East, Christmas Day dawned like a tooth-baring Grinch: flooding threats, wicked winds and plummeting temperatures under dismal gray skies. Susan Miller, USA TODAY, "Christmas Day's lump of coal for the East: Flooding threats, frigid temps, wicked winds," 26 Dec. 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

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for dismal

Last Updated

16 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Dismal.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dismal. Accessed 21 Jan. 2021.

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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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