dungeon

noun

dun·​geon ˈdən-jən How to pronounce dungeon (audio)
1
: donjon
2
: a dark usually underground prison or vault

Did you know?

The words for two different parts of a castle come from the same source. The word dungeon, meaning “a dark usually underground prison,” comes from the French word donjon, which also gives us our English word donjon, meaning “an inner tower in a castle.” Dungeon was first used in English in the 14th century for the strong tower in the inner part of the castle. Defenders could retreat to this tower if attackers got inside the castle walls. Part of the tower usually included an underground room, the dungeon, usually used for prisoners. Throughout its history, the word dungeon has had many spellings. Sometimes it was spelled donjon like the French word it comes from, and sometimes in other ways. In time the spelling donjon came to be used mostly for the castle tower, and the spelling dungeon mostly for the underground room or prison.

Examples of dungeon in a Sentence

The king threw them in the dungeon.
Recent Examples on the Web Doctor Yusuf was missing three toes on his left foot (nobody knew why), and Doctor Majboor had lost four fingers on his right hand in one of Najibullah’s dungeons. Jamil Jan Kochai, The New Yorker, 19 Feb. 2024 The developers didn’t want to build another hack-and-slash game or dungeon crawler. Gieson Cacho, The Mercury News, 5 Mar. 2024 My life would be waking up, getting ready for my shift, and walking down to the dungeon and waiting for any bookings or people to come in off the street. Varuna Srinivasan, Allure, 9 Dec. 2023 Reload also reworks one of the game’s more questionable sequences, and — thankfully — has added more things to do and see inside of Tartarus so that the dungeon crawling doesn’t get so monotonous. Andrew Webster, The Verge, 2 Feb. 2024 Soon enough, the poet betrays almost all his old friends, sending them to die nightmarish deaths in government dungeons. Jamil Jan Kochai, The New Yorker, 19 Feb. 2024 Gefen told us that, even in the dark dungeons where they were kept, the women dreamt of freedom. David Harsanyi, National Review, 25 Jan. 2024 Kyle Orland 2019: Link delves into a dungeon in a cute Nintendo booth diorama. Kyle Orland, Ars Technica, 12 Dec. 2023 Our hero, Sung, starts as the weakest hunter of all until a trip to a strange dungeon changes him forever. James Grebey, Vulture, 19 Jan. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'dungeon.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Middle English dongeon, donjon, from Anglo-French donjun, from Vulgar Latin *domnion-, domnio keep, mastery, from Latin dominus lord — more at dominate

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of dungeon was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near dungeon

Cite this Entry

“Dungeon.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dungeon. Accessed 18 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition

dungeon

noun
dun·​geon ˈdən-jən How to pronounce dungeon (audio)
1
: donjon
2
: a dark usually underground prison
Etymology

Middle English donjon "tower in a castle, dungeon," from early French donjon "castle tower" — related to donjon

Word Origin
The word dungeon, in use in English since the 1300s, originally referred to the keep of a castle—the massive inner tower detached from the rest of the structure that was its most securely located and protected part. During its early history this word had about a dozen different spellings, but nowadays, in the sense of a castle's keep, the usual form is donjon. The donjon was the stronghold to which the residents of the castle retreated if the outer walls had been scaled or breached in a siege. The subterranean part of a donjon was called by the same word in the form dungeon, the usual spelling for this sense. This dark, damp chamber was used as a cell for the confinement of prisoners. Both donjon and dungeon are borrowed from medieval French donjon, most likely the descendant of an unrecorded spoken Latin form domnio, ultimately a derivative of Latin dominus, "lord." The underlying sense of domnio would have been "dominating tower," reflecting the relation between the keep and the rest of the castle.
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