or ma·ca·ber

[muh-kah-bruh, -kahb, -kah-ber]
See more synonyms for macabre on
  1. gruesome and horrifying; ghastly; horrible.
  2. of, pertaining to, dealing with, or representing death, especially its grimmer or uglier aspect.
  3. of or suggestive of the allegorical dance of death.

Origin of macabre

1400–50; < French; compare late Middle English Macabrees daunce < Middle French danse (de) Macabré, of uncertain origin; perhaps to be identified with Medieval Latin chorēa Machabaeōrum a representation of the deaths of Judas Maccabaeus and his brothers, but evidence is lacking; the French pronunciation with mute e is a misreading of the Middle French forms Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for macabre

Contemporary Examples of macabre

Historical Examples of macabre

  • It was like a macabre march of struggling corpses towards a distant grave.

    A Set of Six

    Joseph Conrad

  • “Life,” he emphasized above the continuous, macabre rattle of a piano.

    Mountain Blood

    Joseph Hergesheimer

  • For as I write doubts dance like macabre figures among my words.

  • It is not sufficiently realised how much there was of the "macabre" about Victor Hugo.

    Suspended Judgments

    John Cowper Powys

  • And if these meetings had their macabre side, I hope it was hidden at least from my guests.

British Dictionary definitions for macabre


  1. gruesome; ghastly; grim
  2. resembling or associated with the danse macabre
Derived Formsmacabrely, adverb

Word Origin for macabre

C15: from Old French danse macabre dance of death, probably from macabé relating to the Maccabees, who were associated with death because of the doctrines and prayers for the dead in II Macc. (12:43–46)
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 macabre

early 15c., from Old French (danse) Macabré "(dance) of Death" (1376), probably a translation of Medieval Latin (Chorea) Machabæorum, literally "dance of the Maccabees" (leaders of the Jewish revolt against Syro-Hellenes; see Maccabees). The association with the dance of death seems to be via vivid descriptions of the martyrdom of the Maccabees in the Apocryphal books. The abstracted sense of "gruesome" is first attested 1842 in French, 1889 in English.

The typical form which the allegory takes is that of a series of pictures, sculptured or painted, in which Death appears, either as a dancing skeleton or as a shrunken corpse wrapped in grave-clothes to persons representing every age and condition of life, and leads them all in a dance to the grave. ["Encyclopaedia Britannica," 11th ed., 1911]
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper