Definition of grotesque in US English:



  • 1Comically or repulsively ugly or distorted.

    ‘grotesque facial distortions’
    • ‘The bull's carcass dragged and hung in a grotesque parody of crucifixion.’
    • ‘Today we are faced with a particularly grotesque form of appeasement.’
    • ‘A demonic light flashed behind the grotesque mask of amiability.’
    • ‘The military stands out as a particularly grotesque example of the latter.’
    • ‘Even grimmer and more grotesque scenarios are amply available in the world of globalization.’
    • ‘Her auburn hair was matted with dried blood and her wings looked like grotesque twigs.’
    • ‘The pristine beach was now a sheet of razor-sharp glass, twisted into hideous and grotesque spires and craters.’
    • ‘Turning on the Admiral, her face twisted into a grotesque mask of furor and grief.’
    • ‘The latter piece, rather grotesque and humorous, will probably never become popular.’
    • ‘Even the tots wore their costumes and enjoyed the fun, peering through their grotesque masks, and frightening their elders.’
    • ‘Another boy did a grotesque parody of a monster drawling incoherent, preposterous demands.’
    • ‘Poverty is ugly and the most grotesque form of slavery.’
    • ‘They each wore a disgusting mask, grotesque caricatures of the human face.’
    • ‘Similarly, the emphasis on waiting times for day surgery leads to a grotesque distortion of priorities.’
    • ‘Their spirits will not find peace hanging there like grotesque decorations from an evil celebration.’
    • ‘The one true romance has had its legs cut out from under it; we are left with the ugly, grotesque caricature of lust that drives these two to their ultimate doom.’
    • ‘Lately he's been an authority on patently grotesque facial hair patterns.’
    • ‘We should close down this grotesque spectacle, and grant these performing primates their freedom and their privacy.’
    • ‘He continuously draws pictures of the creature's grotesque porcelain mask.’
    • ‘But this post-World War II system was only a grotesque parody of a gold standard.’
    malformed, deformed, misshapen, misproportioned, distorted, twisted, gnarled, mangled, mutilated
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    1. 1.1 Incongruous or inappropriate to a shocking degree.
      ‘a lifestyle of grotesque luxury’
      outrageous, monstrous, shocking, astonishing, preposterous, ridiculous, ludicrous, farcical, unbelievable, unthinkable, incredible
      View synonyms


  • 1A very ugly or comically distorted figure, creature, or image.

    ‘the rods are carved in the form of a series of gargoyle faces and grotesques’
    • ‘No less remarkable is the decoration on an enchanting plate, which is inspired by painted grotesques from around 1500, and surrounds a bizarre mannerist figure.’
    • ‘Its 252 leaves includes two full-page miniatures and thousands of exquisite marginalia embracing a whole menagerie of birds and beasties, monsters, fables, grotesques and vignettes of daily life.’
    • ‘The characters, or rather their moulded images, are from the sketchbook, social grotesques masquerading as pillars of society.’
    • ‘Out in the street, he found a carnival of grotesques behind the surface of the world.’
    • ‘In the process, what could have been a portentous freak show of rural grotesques became a memorable portrait of painful family fissures.’
    • ‘In the large ensemble cast, he gives the standout performance as the endearingly needy, shambling Tommy, the most human figure in what often seems like a gallery of grotesques and cartoon caricatures.’
    • ‘They're a pastiche of grotesques lifted from the canon of Southern literature with additional fever-pitch dialogue from every drug-addiction novel ever written.’
    • ‘At the bottom of each slope of this gablet is a carved grotesque.’
    • ‘Like all good grotesques, these works simultaneously attract and repel, provoking us into uneasy awareness of ourselves.’
    • ‘The Baroque introduced grotesques along with the heavy ball dangling from the central shaft, anchoring detachable rows of arms that allowed the hanging fixture to mutate vertically.’
    • ‘Standing among these grotesques, one immediately attempted to connect the images, to deduce the cultural and social milieu from which they came.’
    • ‘Gargoyles and grotesques, which top the building, were donated to the Cathedral by civic and school groups over the years.’
    • ‘In a more fantastical vein, there is a goofy, exactingly etched scene from the story of Salome, with a cast of funny grotesques including an old woman dancing nude, a corpulent Herod and a naked man using a small boy as a violin.’
    • ‘A contemporary mind will also be conscious that she is a woman painting women - and, often, find her naked grotesques easier to accept than if a man had painted them.’
    • ‘Gradually, in other songs, Dylan gives more license to clowns and fools, gargoyles and grotesques.’
    • ‘Populated by grotesques and caricatures it was a love/hate letter for an England fading into sepia.’
    • ‘The former is seen in the rectilinear and symmetrical designs, including some carvings and moldings that are formed with characteristic regence strapwork, grotesques, and classical motifs from antiquity.’
    • ‘Each arm seems to take on a life of its own, morphing into quasi-abstract creature heads, unnamable grotesques of glass and pigment, stripes and dots.’
    • ‘Religious sculptures and grotesques are visible on the walls.’
    • ‘The 18th-century singeries go back to Jean Bérain, who first hit on the idea c. 1695 of replacing the classical fauns and statues of Renaissance grotesques by figures of monkeys.’
    1. 1.1the grotesque That which is grotesque.
      ‘images of the macabre and the grotesque’
      • ‘The vogue for the grotesque extended well into the later 17th century, and, to a lesser extent, into the 18th.’
    2. 1.2 A style of decorative painting or sculpture consisting of the interweaving of human and animal forms with flowers and foliage.
      • ‘The adaptation of this decorative style came to be known as grotesque, based on the word grotto.’
      • ‘His writing - poetry, drama, and opinions - is a curious blend of disciplined classicism and carnival grotesque.’
  • 2Printing
    A family of 19th-century sans serif typefaces.


Mid 16th century (as noun): from French crotesque (the earliest form in English), from Italian grottesca, from opera or pittura grottesca ‘work or painting resembling that found in a grotto’; ‘grotto’ here probably denoted the rooms of ancient buildings in Rome which had been revealed by excavations, and which contained murals in the grotesque style.