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

By contrast, Patten’s Chinese successors all suffered dismal popularity ratings — none more so than current Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Washington Post, "In Hong Kong, colonial flag still a symbol of prized values," 6 July 2019 The Cougars were also dismal in the red zone with opponents scoring 92 percent of the time. Matt Murschel, orlandosentinel.com, "2019 College Football Rankings: No. 61 Houston kicks off Dana Holgorsen era," 25 June 2019 The results were dismal, with the Sox losing six of the seven series against the Astros, Rays, and Yankees, going 7-13. Alex Speier, BostonGlobe.com, "Oh, look, the Red Sox took a series from a good team," 19 June 2019 The current reimbursement request angered Baltimore lawmakers, who see it as part of a strategy by the Jockey Club and its Canadian parent company, The Stronach Group, to move the Preakness to Laurel Park because conditions are so dismal at Pimlico. Doug Donovan, baltimoresun.com, "Maryland Jockey Club seeks $4.4 million in state subsidies for racetrack improvements — all for Laurel Park," 18 June 2019 Monday’s forecast is dismal — clouds upon clouds, well into the evening — though Nichols believes that anyone with a clear view to the southeast, perhaps north of metropolitan Chicago, might have some luck. Nicole Blackwood, chicagotribune.com, "Monday's 'Strawberry Moon' might hide behind clouds in Chicago. Here's what you'll miss," 17 June 2019 But in contrast to that bright, clear day, the weather was dismal on Monday. James Barron, New York Times, "Pilot Is Killed in Helicopter Crash on Roof of New York City Building," 10 June 2019 The facilities were dismal, but Markov found community and purpose among their residents. Michael Hardy, WIRED, "Gritty Postcards From the Russian Hinterland," 6 June 2019 Though far from the worst violations of the war, the scenes were emblematically dismal. The New York Review of Books, "Molly Crabapple," 23 May 2019

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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Statistics for dismal

Last Updated

19 Jul 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).


appealing forcibly to the mind or reason

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