sty·​gian ˈsti-j(ē-)ən How to pronounce stygian (audio)
often capitalized
: of or relating to the river Styx
: extremely dark, gloomy, or forbidding
the stygian blackness of the cave

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Stygian comes to us (by way of Latin stygius and Greek stygios) from Styx, the name of the principal river in Hades, the underworld of the dead in Greek mythology. This is the river over which Charon the boatman was said to ferry the spirits of the dead; the Greeks and Romans would place a coin in the mouth or hand of the deceased to serve as fare. It is also the river by which the gods swore their most binding oaths, according to the epics of Homer. English speakers have been using stygian to mean "of or relating to the river Styx" since the early 16th century. From there the meaning broadened to describe things that are as dark, dreary, and menacing as one might imagine Hades and the river Styx to be.

Examples of stygian in a Sentence

lost in the stygian reaches of the deep forest
Recent Examples on the Web On the credit side of the ledger, the stygian interior decor is brightened at night by the neonesque instrument and secondary-control lighting—blue and red—and the cabin is commendably quiet at most operating speeds. Tony Swan, Car and Driver, 3 June 2023 In the last half of 1934, glimmers of daylight peaked through the stygian blackness and, and 1935, the downward trajectory began to reverse itself and tick upward. Thomas Doherty, The Hollywood Reporter, 17 Mar. 2023 Predators that eat the banana-sized birds include peregrine falcons, stygian owls and arboreal snakes. Jill Langlois, Smithsonian Magazine, 21 Feb. 2023 Did this rodent revenant cross a stygian void to haunt us yet again? Jon Chesto,, 26 Dec. 2022 Streaks should start cutting through the stygian sky starting at midnight. Joe Mario Pedersen,, 11 Aug. 2021 When his tiny friend Trinket devises a scheme for their escape from the orphanage, Arthur embarks on a quest through a wild wood and into the stygian corridors of a subterranean city to solve the mystery of his origins. Meghan Cox Gurdon, WSJ, 29 Sep. 2017 After a five-minute ride through the stygian darkness, the barge eases up to a low dock. Wayne Curtis, WIRED, 30 May 2017 There, Levi conjured a Stygian exoplanet of glissandos and microtones and processed percussive sounds, evoking the truly alien better than the most lavish special effects ever could have done. Adam Davidson, The New Yorker, 23 Feb. 2017 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'stygian.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Latin stygius, from Greek stygios, from Styg-, Styx Styx

First Known Use

1513, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of stygian was in 1513


Dictionary Entries Near stygian

Cite this Entry

“Stygian.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Nov. 2023.

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