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See more synonyms for bleak on Thesaurus.com
adjective, bleak·er, bleak·est.
  1. bare, desolate, and often windswept: a bleak plain.
  2. cold and piercing; raw: a bleak wind.
  3. without hope or encouragement; depressing; dreary: a bleak future.
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Origin of bleak1

1300–50; Middle English bleke pale, blend of variants bleche (Old English blǣc) and blake (Old English blāc); both cognate with Old Norse bleikr, German bleich; akin to bleach
Related formsbleak·ish, adjectivebleak·ly, adverbbleak·ness, noun

Synonym study

3. See austere.


  1. a European freshwater fish, Alburnus alburnus, having scales with a silvery pigment that is used in the production of artificial pearls.
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Origin of bleak2

1400–50; late Middle English bleke, noun use of bleke pale; see bleak1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words


Examples from the Web for bleak

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • He stood off from us with his arms folded and his face was as bleak as a winter-bitten wood.

    The Trail Book

    Mary Austin

  • The morning was cold, and a strong wind swept the bleak hills.

    King Philip

    John S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) Abbott

  • A dense forest was behind them, the bleak ocean before them.

    King Philip

    John S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) Abbott

  • His bleak face looked soft and his deep voice had a slight tremor.

    The Christian

    Hall Caine

  • In front the day-break was bursting the confines of the bleak racks of cloud.

    A Son of Hagar

    Sir Hall Caine

British Dictionary definitions for bleak


  1. exposed and barren; desolate
  2. cold and raw
  3. offering little hope or excitement; dismala bleak future
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Derived Formsbleakly, adverbbleakness, noun

Word Origin

Old English blāc bright, pale; related to Old Norse bleikr white, Old High German bleih pale


  1. any slender silvery European cyprinid fish of the genus Alburnus, esp A. lucidus, occurring in slow-flowing rivers
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Word Origin

C15: probably from Old Norse bleikja white colour; related to Old High German bleiche bleach
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for bleak


c.1300, "pale," from Old Norse bleikr "pale, whitish, blond," from Proto-Germanic *blaika- "shining, white," from PIE root *bhel- (1) "to shine, flash, burn" (see bleach (v.)). Later "bare, windswept" (1530s). Sense of "cheerless" is c.1719 figurative extension. The same Germanic root produced Old English blac "pale," but this died out, probably from confusion with blæc "black;" however bleak persisted, with a sense of "bare" as well as "pale."

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper