Definition of macabre
- The macabre dance included a procession of skeletons.
- a macabre presentation of a tragic story
- this macabre procession of starving peasants
a macabre story of murder and madness
Police discovered a macabre scene inside the house.
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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.
appalling, atrocious, awful, dreadful, frightful, ghastly, grisly, gruesome (also grewsome), hideous, horrendous, horrible, horrid, horrific, horrifying, lurid, monstrous, nightmare, nightmarish, shocking, terrible, terrific;
: involving death or violence in a way that is strange, frightening, or unpleasant
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