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See more synonyms for dismal on Thesaurus.com
  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.
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  1. Southern U.S. a tract of swampy land, usually along the coast.
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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

Examples from the Web for dismally

Historical Examples

  • "I don't see that we can do anything for them at any time," he said, dismally.

    Ester Ried Yet Speaking

    Isabella Alden

  • "I think the less she sees of me, the better she likes me," he said dismally.

    It Happened in Egypt

    C. N. Williamson

  • You will not wonder to see this narrative so dismally scrawled.

    Clarissa, Volume 3 (of 9)

    Samuel Richardson

  • "I don't know; but I suppose we can look," said Ted, dismally.

    Audrey Craven

    May Sinclair

  • Twas very dark and blustering and dismally cold at that time.

British Dictionary definitions for dismally


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

Word Origin

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 dismally



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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper