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 Early on in Old, his latest macabre roller-coaster ride, a trio of children play freeze tag on a beach, ducking and weaving and laughing while one of them stands motionless, waiting to spring back to life. David Sims, The Atlantic, 22 July 2021 The sheriff drove his white pickup down a familiar dirt road past Needle Peak Mountain toward another macabre scene deep in the vast desert. Dallas News, 2 July 2021 At other times, reality was even more macabre than anything the writers room could come up with. Tessa Stuart, Rolling Stone, 12 May 2021 Writing for Artnet News in 2017, Menachem Wecker pointed out that artists throughout history have created similarly macabre symbols. Isis Davis-marks, Smithsonian Magazine, 1 June 2021 That might sound like a macabre pastime, especially on a bright summer day, but cemeteries are interesting places filled with history, especially in Alabama. Mary Colurso |, al, 22 May 2021 The macabre political achievement of Republicans in recent decades has been to convince millions of working-class Americans to vote against their own material interests. Jacob Silverman, The New Republic, 12 Mar. 2021 One of the most macabre practices featured in The Madman’s Library is anthropodermic bibliopegy, or the art of binding books in human skin. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian Magazine, 6 Apr. 2021 Up until Queen Victoria’s reign, mourning jewelry was often wickedly macabre with symbols including skulls, crossbones, and reapers. Jill Newman, Town & Country, 13 Mar. 2021

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

28 Jul 2021

Cite this Entry

“Macabre.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Jul. 2021.

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More Definitions for macabre



English Language Learners Definition of macabre

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

More from Merriam-Webster on macabre

Nglish: Translation of macabre for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of macabre for Arabic Speakers


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