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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.
    • 1588, G[abriel] H[arvey], “[Greenes Memoriall; Or Certaine Funerall Sonnets.] Sonnet XVII. His Exhortation to Atonement and Love.”, in J[ohn] P[ayne] C[ollier], editor, Fovre Letters, and Certaine Sonnets, [] (Miscellaneous Tracts Temp. Eliz. & Jac. I), [London: s.n., published 1870], →OCLC, page 77:
      Magnes and many thinges attractive are, / But nothing ſo allective under ſkyes, / As that ſame dainty amiable ſtarre, / That none but griſly mouth of hell defyes.
    • 1610, Richard Niccols, “The Indvction”, in A Winter Nights Vision; being an Addition of such Princes Especially Famous, who were Exempted in the Former Historie, part IV, London: Felix Kyngston, →OCLC; republished as Joseph Haslewood, editor, Mirror for Magistrates, volume II, part II, London: Printed for Lackington, Allen, and Co. Finsbury Square; and Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orms, and Brown, Paternoster Row, 1815, →OCLC, page 548:
      Then clad in cloake of mistie fogges the darke night vp did come, / And with grim grislie looke did seeme to bid me get me home; []
    • 1878, John Boyle O'Reilly, “On the Trail”, in Moondyne: A Story from the Under-world, London: George Routledge and Sons, published 1879, →OCLC; republished as Moondyne: A Story of Convict Life in Australia, London: George Routledge & Sons, Limited, Broadway House, Ludgate Hill, [1880s], →OCLC, book first, pages 23–24:
      It was sore travelling for horse and man under the blazing sun, with no food nor water save what he pressed from the pith of the palms, and even these were growing scarce. The only life on the plains was the hard and dusty scrub. Every hour brought a more hopeless and grislier desolation.
    • 1941, Winston Churchill, The Unrelenting Struggle:
      We know too well the bestial assault you are making upon the Russian people, to whom our hearts go out in their valiant struggle. We will have no truce or parley with you, or the grisly gang who work your wicked will. You do your worst and we will do our best.
    • 1968 summer, Hayden Carruth, “Making It New”, in The Hudson Review, volume XXI, number 2, New York, N.Y.: Hudson Review, Inc., →ISSN, →OCLC; reprinted as “From ‘Making It New’ [Body Rags]”, in Howard Nelson, editor, On the Poetry of Galway Kinnell: The Wages of Dying (Under Discussion), Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 1987, →ISBN, page 75:
      In his [Galway Kinnell's] new book, Body Rags, he has brought this style to a kind of perfection, especially in two poems about the killing of animals, "The Porcupine" and "The Bear." These are the grisliest poems I have ever read.
    • 2017 January 19, Peter Bradshaw, “T2 Trainspotting review – choose a sequel that doesn’t disappoint”, in The Guardian[1], London, archived from the original on 20 January 2017:
      Perhaps you have to have seen the first film to like this one; to feel, like the young fans of Harry Potter, that without knowing or wanting it, you have grown up with its grisly protagonists.
  2. Obsolete form of grizzly.
    • 1631, Francis [Bacon], “(please specify |century=I to X)”, in Sylua Syluarum: Or A Naturall Historie. In Ten Centuries. [], 3rd edition, London: [] William Rawley; [p]rinted by J[ohn] H[aviland] for William Lee [], →OCLC:
      old squirrels that turn grisly
    • 1830, Josiah Conder, The Modern Traveller: Mexico (continued), Guatemala (page 84)
      The animals found in this province are, deer, elk, buffalo, cabrie, the grisly black bear, and wild horses.
  3. Misspelling of gristly.
Usage notes[edit]

Not to be confused with gristly or grizzly.

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


grisly (plural grislies)

  1. Obsolete form of grizzly (type of bear).
    • 1893, Theodore Roosevelt, Hunting the Grisly and Other Sketches

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.
    • 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, 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, 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, 2019–2022.

Middle English[edit]



  1. grisly: horrifyingly repellentrepellent; gruesome, terrifying



  1. grisly: 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; republished in [William Thynne], editor, The Workes of Geffray Chaucer Newlye Printed, [], [London]: [] [Richard Grafton for] Iohn Reynes [], 1542, →OCLC, “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)