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  1. causing gloom or dejection; gloomy; dreary; cheerless; melancholy: dismal weather.
  2. characterized by ineptness or lack of skill, competence, effectiveness, imagination, or interest; pitiful: Our team played a dismal game.
  3. Obsolete.
    1. disastrous; calamitous.
    2. unlucky; sinister.
  1. Southern U.S. a tract of swampy land, usually along the coast.

Origin of dismal

1275–1325; Middle English dismale unlucky time, dismol day one of two days in each month considered unlucky (hence later taken as adj.) < Anglo-French dis mal < Medieval Latin diēs malī literally, evil days
Related formsdis·mal·ly, adverbdis·mal·ness, dis·mal·i·ty, noun

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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for dismal


  1. causing gloom or depression
  2. causing dismay or terror
  3. of poor quality or a low standard; feeble
Derived Formsdismally, adverbdismalness, noun

Word Origin for dismal

C13: from dismal (noun) list of 24 unlucky days in the year, from Medieval Latin diēs malī bad days, from Latin diēs day + malus bad
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 dismal

c.1400, from Anglo-French dismal (mid-13c.), from Old French (li) dis mals "(the) bad days," from Medieval Latin dies mali "evil or unlucky days" (also called dies Ægyptiaci), from Latin dies "days" (see diurnal) + mali, plural of malus "bad" (see mal-).

Through the Middle Ages, calendars marked two days of each month as unlucky, supposedly based on the ancient calculations of Egyptian astrologers (Jan. 1, 25; Feb. 4, 26; March 1, 28; April 10, 20; May 3, 25; June 10, 16; July 13, 22; Aug. 1, 30; Sept. 3, 21; Oct. 3, 22; Nov. 5, 28; Dec. 7, 22). Modern sense of "gloomy, dreary" first recorded in English 1590s, in reference to sounds. Related: Dismally.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper