ma·​ca·​bre | \ mə-ˈkäb How to pronounce macabre (audio) , -ˈkä-brə How to pronounce macabre (audio) , -bər, -ˈkäbrᵊ \

Definition of macabre

1 : having death as a subject : comprising or including a personalized representation of death The macabre dance included a procession of skeletons.
2 : dwelling on the gruesome a macabre presentation of a tragic story
3 : tending to produce horror in a beholder this macabre procession of starving peasants

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Choose the Right Synonym for macabre

ghastly, grisly, gruesome, macabre, lurid mean horrifying and repellent in appearance or aspect. ghastly suggests the terrifying aspects of corpses and ghosts. a ghastly accident grisly and gruesome suggest additionally the results of extreme violence or cruelty. an unusually grisly murder suffered a gruesome death macabre implies a morbid preoccupation with the physical aspects of death. a macabre tale of premature burial lurid adds to gruesome the suggestion of shuddering fascination with violent death and especially with murder. the lurid details of a crime

Where does the word macabre come from?

We trace the origins of macabre to the name of the Book of Maccabees which is included in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canons of the Old Testament and in the Protestant Apocrypha. Sections of this biblical text address both the deaths of faithful people asked to renounce their religion and the manner in which the dead should be properly commemorated. The latter includes a discussion of praying for the souls of the dead, which was important in the development of the notion of purgatory and a happy afterlife for those persecuted for their religion. In medieval France, representations of these passages were performed as a procession or dance which became known as the “dance of death” or “dance Maccabee,” which was spelled in several different ways, including danse macabre.

In English, macabre was originally used in reference to this “dance of death” and then gradually became used more broadly, referring to anything grim or gruesome. It has come to be used as a synonym of horrible or distressing, always with a connection to the physical aspects of death and suffering.

Examples of macabre in a Sentence

a macabre story of murder and madness Police discovered a macabre scene inside the house.
Recent Examples on the Web At just over 300 pages, the book is a lean and macabre page-turner, as del Toro and Hogan spare no bloody details in describing heinous murders and occult rituals. Patrick Ryan, USA TODAY, "'The Hollow Ones' review: Guillermo del Toro's supernatural mystery is eerie but empty," 4 Aug. 2020 That awe-inducing scenery and careful character-building is lost in macabre action. Eliana Dockterman, Time, "The Last of Us Part II Is a Revolutionary Video Game—and an Unbelievably Grim One," 12 June 2020 With three spectacular production numbers, the film captured the first full flowering of Busby Berkeley’s geometrical and symbolic, and macabre and erotic, imagination. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, "What to Read and Stream: The Remarkable Out-of-Print Book That Inspired “42nd Street”," 6 May 2020 Today, the macabre scenes have been largely replaced by images of health staffers in hazmat suits and lab smocks fumigating streets and handing out disinfectant kits, medicines, food and other basics to slum dwellers and others in Guayaquil. Los Angeles Times, "No more bodies on the streets. But coronavirus batters Ecuador with disproportionate force," 26 Apr. 2020 The affidavit paints a macabre scene of elderly patients in various stages of respiratory distress when paramedics arrived. Tonya Alanez,, "Deadly temperatures at Hollywood nursing home higher than paramedics had ever seen, affidavit shows," 18 Sep. 2019 Although macabre to ponder, the manner in which these people perished can reveal important characteristics of pyroclastic surges, which aren’t yet fully understood, Krippner notes. National Geographic, "Vesuvius eruption baked some people to death—and turned one brain to glass," 23 Jan. 2020 Indeed, one of the most macabre experiences video games can currently provide is also one of the world’s most widely played. Stephen Totilo, New York Times, "When a Gaming Fantasy Is Eerily Close to Reality," 8 Apr. 2020 Trumpworld’s desire to sacrifice them for the economy’s sake, however, is particularly macabre. Matt Ford, The New Republic, "Trumpworld Embraces the Death Wish Economy," 25 Mar. 2020

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

1889, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for macabre

French, from (danse) macabre dance of death, from Middle French (danse de) Macabré

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Time Traveler for macabre

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The first known use of macabre was in 1889

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Last Updated

8 Aug 2020

Cite this Entry

“Macabre.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for macabre


How to pronounce macabre (audio) How to pronounce macabre (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of macabre

: involving death or violence in a way that is strange, frightening, or unpleasant

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More from Merriam-Webster on macabre

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for macabre

Spanish Central: Translation of macabre

Nglish: Translation of macabre for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of macabre for Arabic Speakers

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