Suggesting the horror of death and decay; gruesome: macabre tales of war and plague in the Middle Ages. See Synonyms at ghastly.
Constituting or including a representation of death.
Origin: Ultimately from Old French (Danse) Macabre, (dance) of death, perhaps alteration of Macabe, Maccabee, from Latin Maccabaeus, from Greek Makkabios.
Word History: The word macabre is an excellent example of a word formed with reference to a specific context that has long since disappeared for everyone but scholars. Macabre is first recorded in the phrase Macabrees daunce in a work written around 1430 by John Lydgate. Macabree was thought by Lydgate to be the name of a French author, but in fact he misunderstood the Old French phrase Danse Macabre, “the Dance of Death,” a subject of art and literature. In this dance, Death leads people of all classes and walks of life to the same final end. The macabre element may be an alteration of Macabe, “a Maccabee.” The Maccabees were Jewish martyrs who were honored by a feast throughout the Western Church, and reverence for them was linked to reverence for the dead. Today macabre has no connection with the Maccabees and little connection with the Dance of Death, but it still has to do with death.