macabre

adjective

ma·​ca·​bre mə-ˈkäb How to pronounce macabre (audio) -ˈkä-brə How to pronounce macabre (audio)
-bər,
-ˈkäbrᵊ
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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Did you know?

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. In medieval France, representations of these passages were performed as what 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 came to refer to anything grim or gruesome.

Did you know?

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.

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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

Example Sentences

a macabre story of murder and madness Police discovered a macabre scene inside the house.
Recent Examples on the Web Prior to opening his first museum, Michaels kept the pieces of flagstone and countless other macabre artifacts in his home. Alyssa Fiorentino, House Beautiful, 10 Aug. 2022 Eyes are sucked into victims’ heads, bones are cracked and crushed, bodies are left resembling macabre human pretzels. Brian Truitt, USA TODAY, 29 May 2022 Smith fell in love with fashion while talking to McQueen, who shared Smith's macabre view of life, albeit from different backgrounds. Lee Escobedo, Vogue, 17 June 2022 The hate has become so vehement and depraved — one Depp fan painted a picture of Heard defecating on the actor’s bed in a macabre interpretation of Depp’s testimony — that both sides are accusing the other of having fake fan armies. Tatiana Siegel, Rolling Stone, 3 May 2022 Beneath wall text describing Báthory’s ghoulish crimes and her macabre punishment, bloody mannequins in nightshirts, one with its throat hideously cut, sprawl across a counterpane. Sam Lipsyte, Harper’s Magazine , 27 Apr. 2022 Browder also describes a series of increasingly macabre court cases brought against him in Russia, including one in which a Moscow court tried Browder in absentia and Magnitsky posthumously. Washington Post, 15 Apr. 2022 Monday’s testimony descended into ever more macabre terrain, as a nurse and doctor recounted in bloody detail the search for Depp’s missing fingertip following a 2015 fight with Heard. Gene Maddaus, Variety, 19 Apr. 2022 Throughout the month, Pot Roast’s Mom grieved by making macabre jokes about the cat’s last days. NBC News, 4 Mar. 2022 See More

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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Word History

Etymology

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

First Known Use

1889, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of macabre was in 1889

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Dictionary Entries Near macabre

Cite this Entry

“Macabre.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/macabre. Accessed 1 Oct. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on macabre

Last Updated: 21 Aug 2022

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