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[diz-muh l] /ˈdɪz məl/
causing gloom or dejection; gloomy; dreary; cheerless; melancholy:
dismal weather.
characterized by ineptness or lack of skill, competence, effectiveness, imagination, or interest; pitiful:
Our team played a dismal game.
  1. disastrous; calamitous.
  2. unlucky; sinister.
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 forms
dismally, adverb
dismalness, dismality, noun
2. hopeless, abysmal, dreadful.
1. cheerful; gay. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for dismal
  • But for her every dismal observation, a jaunty little lamb counters with a sunny-side-up perspective.
  • This is why economics gets known as the dismal science.
  • The state of science education in some countries is truly dismal.
  • Automakers start 2009 with a dismal month.
  • Minter is looking at a housing collapse to spark a deflationary spiral — a dismal period of falling prices.
  • Satire may have a pretty dismal record at the box office, but at least one studio won't be dissuaded.
  • Hollywood finishes dismal box-office year.
  • In an overcrowded, dismal world, Trella gets involved with a revolutionary prophet.
  • Who dare call it the dismal science? Studying economics sounds boring to some.
  • It's now bumped up to a still-dismal 29%.
British Dictionary definitions for dismal


causing gloom or depression
causing dismay or terror
of poor quality or a low standard; feeble
Derived Forms
dismally, adverb
dismalness, 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
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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
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