Printable Version
Pronunciation: mê-kahb, mê-kah-brê Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Bizarrely terrifying, horrible in a somehow twisted way, gruesome and suggestive of voodoo.

Notes: Dance of DeathThe highlight of today's word was its inclusion in the title of "Danse Macabre" by Camille Saint-Saëns. It is usually interpreted as "the Dance of Death". Since the final E is not pronounced in French and English words are not allowed to end in BR, English-speakers cannot decide whether to pronounce the E or not, hence, the dual allowable pronunciations. An adverb is allowable, macabrely, as is a noun, macabreness.

In Play: Today's word is traditionally associated with horrible death: "The train wreck was a macabre scene of corpses and mutilated bodies." However, that association may be broken: "Miss Taykin greeted Halloweeners dressed in a witch's outfit with a macabre smile on her face."

Word History: Today's Good Word, yet again, was taken from French macabre, originally in the term danse macabre. We have two theories of how the word came to be in French. The first is that the phrase danse macabre is a reduction of Latin Chorea Machabaeorum "Dance of the Maccabees". The Maccabees were the militant followers of Judas Maccabee, who retook Jerusalem from the Greek Seleucids in the 2nd century BCE. They established new religious rules, and violators of any of them were punished by death. Maccabee presumably came from Arabic maqqabh "hammer".

Another theory has the word borrowed from Spanish macabro that Spanish borrowed from Moorish Arabic maqabir "cemeteries", the plural of maqbara. Borrowing a plural form of Arabic is not unusual; a similar case is the word magazine "storage house or housing", derived from the plural, maxazin, of the Arabic maxzan "storehouse/depot/shop". Take your pick. (Now let's all thank newcomer Anna Jung for recommending today's gruesomely beautiful Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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