Definition of grotesque in US English:



  • 1Comically or repulsively ugly or distorted.

    ‘grotesque facial distortions’
    • ‘But this post-World War II system was only a grotesque parody of a gold standard.’
    • ‘They each wore a disgusting mask, grotesque caricatures of the human face.’
    • ‘A demonic light flashed behind the grotesque mask of amiability.’
    • ‘Her auburn hair was matted with dried blood and her wings looked like grotesque twigs.’
    • ‘Poverty is ugly and the most grotesque form of slavery.’
    • ‘Even the tots wore their costumes and enjoyed the fun, peering through their grotesque masks, and frightening their elders.’
    • ‘Turning on the Admiral, her face twisted into a grotesque mask of furor and grief.’
    • ‘The pristine beach was now a sheet of razor-sharp glass, twisted into hideous and grotesque spires and craters.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The bull's carcass dragged and hung in a grotesque parody of crucifixion.’
    • ‘Another boy did a grotesque parody of a monster drawling incoherent, preposterous demands.’
    • ‘We should close down this grotesque spectacle, and grant these performing primates their freedom and their privacy.’
    • ‘Today we are faced with a particularly grotesque form of appeasement.’
    • ‘The military stands out as a particularly grotesque example of the latter.’
    • ‘Lately he's been an authority on patently grotesque facial hair patterns.’
    • ‘Even grimmer and more grotesque scenarios are amply available in the world of globalization.’
    • ‘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 latter piece, rather grotesque and humorous, will probably never become popular.’
    • ‘He continuously draws pictures of the creature's grotesque porcelain mask.’
    malformed, deformed, misshapen, misproportioned, distorted, twisted, gnarled, mangled, mutilated
    View synonyms
    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’
    • ‘At the bottom of each slope of this gablet is a carved grotesque.’
    • ‘Gradually, in other songs, Dylan gives more license to clowns and fools, gargoyles and grotesques.’
    • ‘The characters, or rather their moulded images, are from the sketchbook, social grotesques masquerading as pillars of society.’
    • ‘Religious sculptures and grotesques are visible on the walls.’
    • ‘Standing among these grotesques, one immediately attempted to connect the images, to deduce the cultural and social milieu from which they came.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Out in the street, he found a carnival of grotesques behind the surface of the world.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘In the process, what could have been a portentous freak show of rural grotesques became a memorable portrait of painful family fissures.’
    • ‘Like all good grotesques, these works simultaneously attract and repel, provoking us into uneasy awareness of ourselves.’
    • ‘Gargoyles and grotesques, which top the building, were donated to the Cathedral by civic and school groups over the years.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Populated by grotesques and caricatures it was a love/hate letter for an England fading into sepia.’
    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.