\ \ [15] Macabre is now used generally for ‘ghastly’, but that is a late 19th-century development. It originated in the very specific phrase dance macabre, which denoted a dance in which a figure representing death enticed people to dance with him until they dropped down dead.
\ \ This was borrowed from French danse macabre, which was probably an alteration of an earlier danse Macabé. This in turn was a translation of medieval Latin chorea Machabaeorumdance of the Maccabees’, which is thought originally to have referred to a stylized representation of the slaughter of the Maccabees (a Jewish dynasty of biblical times) in a medieval miracle play.

Word origins - 2ed. . 2005.

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  • macabre — [məkä′bərmə käb′rə, mə käb′, məkä′bər] adj. [Fr < OFr ( danse) Macabré, (dance) of death, prob. altered < ML ( Chorea) Machabaeorum, lit., dance of the Maccabees (see MACCABEES): semantic connection obscure] grim and horrible; gruesome;… …   English World dictionary

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