gro·​tesque | \ grō-ˈtesk How to pronounce grotesque (audio) \

Definition of grotesque

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : a style of decorative art characterized by fanciful or fantastic human and animal forms often interwoven with foliage or similar figures that may distort the natural into absurdity, ugliness, or caricature
b : a piece of work in this style an ornate structure, embellished with grotesques
2 : one that is grotesque



Definition of grotesque (Entry 2 of 2)

: of, relating to, or having the characteristics of the grotesque: such as
a : fanciful, bizarre a grotesque Halloween costume
b : absurdly incongruous
c : departing markedly from the natural, the expected, or the typical animals with grotesque deformities

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Other Words from grotesque


grotesquely adverb
grotesqueness noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for grotesque

Synonyms: Noun

Synonyms: Adjective

Antonyms: Adjective

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fantastic, bizarre, grotesque mean conceived, made, or carried out without adherence to truth or reality. fantastic may connote extravagance in conception or ingenuity of decorative invention. dreamed up fantastic rumors bizarre applies to the sensationally strange and implies violence of contrast or incongruity of combination. a bizarre medieval castle in the heart of a modern city grotesque may apply to what is conventionally ugly but artistically effective or it may connote ludicrous awkwardness or incongruity often with sinister or tragic overtones. grotesque statues on the cathedral though grieving, she made a grotesque attempt at a smile

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During the Italian Renaissance, Romans of culture took a great interest in their country's past and began excavating ancient buildings. During their excavations, they uncovered chambers (known in Italian as grotte, in reference to their cavelike appearance) decorated with artwork depicting fantastic combinations of human and animal forms interwoven with strange fruits and flowers. The Italian word grottesca became the name for this unique art style, and by 1561 it had mutated into the English noun "grotesque." The adjective form of "grotesque" was first used in the early 17th century to describe the decorative art but is now used to describe anything bizarre, incongruous, or unusual.

Examples of grotesque in a Sentence

Noun a gallery of grotesques from some sicko horror movie Adjective The actors wore dark capes and grotesque masks. a grotesque distortion of the facts
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Perhaps the most grotesque came in 1964, when LeMay was given Japan’s highest award to a foreigner for helping to rebuild the postwar Japanese Air Force. Paul Kennedy, WSJ, 30 Apr. 2021 On both of their faces, there is an expression of pleasure that borders on the grotesque — from the woman’s hand dangles a smartphone. Brienne Walsh, Forbes, 26 Apr. 2021 It might be said that these two dream-figures, Hitchcock and Grant, were their own body doubles, the one comically grotesque, the other superhumanly handsome. John Banville, The New Republic, 1 Apr. 2021 The grotesque compensation package has become a unique feature of American capitalism., 8 May 2021 Zu Guttenberg’s denials sounded deeply convincing and emphatic, and every grotesque turn of the affair seemed to take him by complete surprise—almost as if someone else had written the dissertation for him. Adrian Daub, The New Republic, 21 Apr. 2021 The characters in the movie are oversimplified—they're either pure of heart, quietly grotesque, or pure evil. Jenny Singer, Glamour, 20 Apr. 2021 Many of them, like Medusa, have the face of a woman but other grotesque, unnatural body parts. Barbara Spindel, The Christian Science Monitor, 5 Apr. 2021 There’s room for stripping to meet comedy; for raunchiness to play with tragedy; for the beautiful to face the grotesque; and for the performer to make the audience squirm. New York Times, 25 Mar. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Another is that viewing gruesome, grotesque, or disturbing images can cause people added distress. Lee Igel, Forbes, 16 June 2021 Above a vintage black-and-white photograph of schoolchildren being drilled with makeshift weapons in the desperate last days of the Second World War, a crimson rendering of a coronavirus hovers in a grotesque parody of Japan’s national flag. Matt Alt, The New Yorker, 16 May 2021 Winkelmann continues his Everydays project and he is known for his distinct artistic style incorporating bizarre and often disturbing and grotesque imagery that combines pungent pop culture, politics, and technology themes. Leeor Shimron, Forbes, 13 May 2021 As featured creatures, these Alphas are grotesque and brazenly campy. Darren Franich,, 20 May 2021 The execution scene, its appalling cruelty cloaked in ceremony, bears a grotesque resemblance to the presentation of debutantes at a cotillion ball. Andrew Delbanco, The New York Review of Books, 27 Apr. 2021 That is a grotesque oversimplification, and this mailbag is not about oversimplification if this first answer tells you anything. Matthew Defranks, Dallas News, 15 Apr. 2021 The story is included in Szab?owski’s book How to Feed a Dictator:… A View to a Krill New Books Design for a grotesque mask by Johann Ulrich Stapf © Victoria and Albert Museum, London Witch hunts have always been a tool of those in power. Ishmael Reed, Harpers Magazine, 13 Apr. 2021 Labor activists will charge them with complicity in the grotesque repression of the Uyghurs. New York Times, 6 Apr. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'grotesque.' 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 grotesque


1561, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1603, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for grotesque

Noun and Adjective

Middle French & Old Italian; Middle French, from Old Italian (pittura) grottesca, literally, cave painting, feminine of grottesco of a cave, from grotta — see grotto

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Time Traveler for grotesque

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The first known use of grotesque was in 1561

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Last Updated

26 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Grotesque.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Jun. 2021.

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More Definitions for grotesque



English Language Learners Definition of grotesque

: very strange or ugly in a way that is not normal or natural
: extremely different from what is expected or usual


gro·​tesque | \ grō-ˈtesk How to pronounce grotesque (audio) \

Kids Definition of grotesque

: unnatural in an odd or ugly way


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