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Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English grisely, grysly, grissliȝ, griselich, grislich, from Old English grisliċ (grisly, horrible; dreadful, horrid), from grīsan (to shudder with horror; to tremble, to be terrified; to make tremble, to terrify; to agrise, grise) (unattested but implied in āgrīsan)[1] + -lic (suffix forming adjectives meaning ‘characteristic of, pertaining to’).

The word may also be an aphetic form of Old English ongrislic, agrisenliċ, the past participle of agrīsan (to agrise).[2]

Compare Danish grusom, Swedish gräslig, Middle Dutch grezelijc (modern Dutch griezelig), Middle High German grisenlich (modern German grässlich, grausen).


grisly (comparative grislier, superlative grisliest)

  1. Horrifyingly repellent; gruesome, terrifying.
    Synonyms: (obsolete) grisy, gristly, (misspellings) grizzly; see also Thesaurus:frightening
    The photographs of the killings depict a grisly scene.
  2. Misspelling of gristly.
  3. Misspelling of grizzly.
    • 1631, [Francis Bacon], “(please specify |century=I to X)”, in Sylua Syluarum: Or A Naturall Historie. In Ten Centuries. [], 3rd edition, London: [] VVilliam Rawley; [p]rinted by J[ohn] H[aviland] for William Lee [], OCLC 1044372886:
      old squirrels that turn grisly
Usage notes[edit]

Not to be confused with gristly or grizzly.

Alternative forms[edit]
Derived terms[edit]
Related terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

From grisle (horror, terror) +‎ -ly; compare Middle Dutch griselike, Middle Low German grislike.


grisly (comparative more grisly, superlative most grisly)

  1. (obsolete) In a horrible or terrible manner; in a terrifying way.
    • 1387–1400, Geoffrey Chaucer, “(please specify the story)”, in The Canterbury Tales, [Westminster: William Caxton, published 1478], OCLC 230972125; republished in [William Thynne], editor, The Workes of Geffray Chaucer Newlye Printed, [], [London]: [] [Richard Grafton for] Iohn Reynes [], 1542, OCLC 932884868, “folio LXIII, verso”, column 2:
      In Flanders whilom there was a company / Of yonge folke, that hau[n]ted foly / As haſard, riot, ſtewes, and tauernes / Where as with harpes, lutes, and geternes / Thei dauncen and plaien at dice night & day / And eten alſo, ouer that her[sic, meaning their] might may / Through which they don the devil ſacrifice / Within the devils temple, in curſed wiſe / By ſuperfluitie abhominable / Her[sic, meaning their] othes ben ſo great and ſo dampnable / That it is griſly for to here hem ſwere
      (please add an English translation of this quote)
    • 1850, William Tyndale, quoting Thomas More, “[The Solutions and Answers unto M. More’s First Book.] The Sixteenth Chapter”, in Henry Walter, editor, An Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue, The Supper of the Lord after the True Meaning of John VI. and 1 Cor. XI. and Wm. Tracy’s Testament Expounded. By William Tyndale, Martyr, 1536. Edited for the Parker Society, by the Rev. Henry Walter, B.D. F.R.S. [...], Cambridge: Printed at the University Press, OCLC 868759675, page 90, footnote:
      [A] very fair young gentlewoman [Sir Roger Wentworth's daughter], of twelve years of age, in marvellous manner vexed and tormented by our ghostly enemy, the devil, her mind alienated and raving, with despising and blaspheming of God, and hatred of all hallowed things, [] finally being brought and laid before the image of our blessed lady, was there, in the sight of many worshipful people, so grievously tormented, and in face, eyes, look, and countenance, so grisly changed, with her mouth drawn aside, and her eyes laid out upon her cheeks, that it was a terrible sight to behold. And after many marvellous things, [] restored to their good state, perfectly cured and suddenly.
    • 1870, George Adlard, “A Letter: Whearin Part of the Entertainment unto the Queen’s Majesty at Killingworth Castl in Warwiksheer in this Somers Progress—1575 is Signified: From a Freend Officer Attendant in the Court unto His Freend a Citizen and Merchaunt of London. [...] With Explanatory Notes.”, in Amye Robsart and the Earl of Leycester; a Critical Inquiry into the Authenticity of the Various Statements in Relation to the Death of Amye Robsart, and of the Libels on the Earl of Leycester, with a Vindication of the Earl by His Nephew Sir Philip Sydney. And a History of Kenilworth Castle, including an Account of the Splendid Entertainment Given to Queen Elizabeth by the Earl of Leycester, in 1575, from the Works of Robert Laneham and George Gascoigne; together with Memoirs and Correspondence of Sir Robert Dudley, Son of the Earl of Leycester, London: John Russell Smith, 36 Soho Square, OCLC 890583907, page 142:
      A valiant Captain of great prowess, as fierce as a fox assaulting a goose, was so hardy to give the first stroke: then got they so grisly together, that great was the activity that day to be seen there on both sides: the one very eager for purchase of prey, the other utterly stout for redemption of liberty: thus, quarrel enflamed the fury on both sides: twice the Danes had the better, but at the last conflict, beaten down, overcome, and many led captive for triumph by our English women.


  1. ^ grise, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1900.
  2. ^ grisly, adj.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1900; “grisly, adj.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.