ma·​ca·​bre | \mə-ˈkäb; -ˈkä-brə, -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 the time, officials emphasized none of the human remains had shown signs of trauma - but given the macabre nature of the findings, speculation ran rampant anyhow. The Washington Post,, "14th human foot washes ashore in Canada," 13 May 2018 One of the most macabre items is a wooden cage known as a Utica Crib that was used in 19th-century asylums to keep patients from leaving their beds. Mitch Stacy,, "Psychology museum explores what makes us human," 10 July 2018 Paintings and written descriptions from the early colonial period document the macabre scene. James Rogers, Fox News, "Gruesome human sacrifice discovery: Skulls reveal grisly secrets of lost Aztec city," 27 June 2018 And while visiting Riverdale might seem glamorous — if slightly macabre, given the murders and intrigue that occur in the not-so-quaint town, Camila also clued everyone in to the effects of having to wear heavy makeup on set. Leah Prinzivalli, Teen Vogue, "Camila Mendes Reveals Her Favorite Eyebrow Products," 19 June 2018 At the time, officials emphasized none of the human remains had shown signs of trauma – but given the macabre nature of the findings, speculation ran rampant anyhow. Amy B Wang, The Seattle Times, "A 14th human foot – this one in a hiking boot – washes ashore in Canada," 14 May 2018 There are hints of David Lynch's macabre absurdism here, but also some agreeably carnivalesque interludes reminiscent of Federico Fellini, Emir Kusturica and even Wes Anderson. Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Volcano': Film Review | Karlovy Vary 2018," 13 July 2018 Rather than a temporary false wall or other display, the pieces are being hung as part of the shop’s regular collection throughout the store, alongside other macabre offerings from established adult creators. Jef Rouner, Houston Chronicle, "Wilde Collection art show makes dark less scary for young artists," 21 June 2018 But its experiment on James Delos (Peter Mullan) is a whole other brand of macabre. David Sims, The Atlantic, "Westworld and the Question of Immortality," 13 May 2018

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

The first known use of macabre was in 1889

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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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with 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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