adjective ma·ca·bre \ mə-ˈkäb ; -ˈkä-brə , -bər ; -ˈkäbrᵊ \
|Updated on: 16 Jul 2018

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

Examples of macabre in a Sentence

  1. a macabre story of murder and madness

  2. Police discovered a macabre scene inside the house.

Recent Examples of macabre from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of macabre

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

Synonym Discussion of 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

MACABRE Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of macabre for English Language Learners

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

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one who attends or assists a leader

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