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

Satellite trucks, national news reporters and animal rights activists converged for what had become a macabre death watch. Corina Knoll, New York Times, "Why So Many Horses Have Died at Santa Anita," 26 June 2019 The work depicts a macabre scene from the apocryphal book of Judith, in which the namesake widow saves the Jewish people by seducing and then beheading Holofernes, the general of a besieging army. Kelly Crow, WSJ, "Unidentified Buyer Adds to the Caravaggio Mystery," 25 June 2019 That’d be Annabelle, the macabre doll/demonic conduit who’s appeared in more films than Ed’s guitar skills. Brian Truitt, USA TODAY, "All 'The Conjuring' horror movies, ranked (including new 'Annabelle Comes Home')," 25 June 2019 What some mourners consider meaningful, others would call macabre. Glenn Mcdonald, National Geographic, "From diamonds to rockets, mourning the dead has gotten high-tech," 17 June 2019 Most of them are there to satisfy curiosity or a macabre, but harmless, interest in the school. Krista Kafer, The Denver Post, "Kafer: Don’t raze Columbine High School; hold trespassers accountable," 20 June 2019 Most of them are there to satisfy curiosity or a macabre, but harmless, interest in the school. Katie Reilly, Time, "'It’s Not a Museum. It’s Not a Mausoleum.' Columbine High School Could Be Torn Down As Safety Threats Mount," 7 June 2019 Most of them are there to satisfy curiosity or a macabre, but harmless interest in the school. Mike James, USA TODAY, "Colorado school officials ask voters to consider tearing down, rebuilding Columbine High School," 6 June 2019 Several curators will point out the obvious, that for agrarian painters who make a living off their artwork, there just isn’t much of a market for the macabre scenes of today’s feedlots and crammed chicken houses. Chase Purdy, Quartz, "Artists stopped showing us the truth about farming and it’s hurting the planet," 15 June 2019

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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Statistics for macabre

Last Updated

16 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

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

Comments on macabre

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an act or instance of editing or removing

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