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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 dismally
  • The completion rates at community colleges are dismally low.
  • The one thing all parties seemed to agree on was that medical science has dismally failed to get a grip on the disease.
  • Alas this model has failed dismally in its own terms: serious crime has been at unacceptable levels for three decades.
  • Rarely, or never, has such an epic problem as global warming been so dismally handled.
  • The doubters seemed vindicated when the team performed dismally in the cup qualifiers.
  • And those who remain are failing dismally to adapt to the changing times.
  • But her two terms as prime minister ended dismally, amid accusations of corruption.
  • Unskilled wages do remain dismally low, yet plenty of evidence points to broadening prosperity.
  • Characters remark dismally and repeatedly that it is raining.
  • Ammunition stocks were dismally low and precision weapons a luxury.
British Dictionary definitions for dismally


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 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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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