What is the exact meaning of dismay?

Is it close to shock and surprise? Or is it closer to disappointment and unhappiness?

Or does it mean embarrassment?

When I looked the word up in the dictionaries, all of them showed different meanings.

Some say shock while others say disappointment. But those feelings have different meanings.

I wonder what is the nuance of dismay.

  • 1
    It has multiple meanings. Most words do. Therefore, there can be no exact meaning. – Jason Bassford Oct 16 '18 at 8:40
  • There's something called "meaning in context" -- depending on the context and the author's intention the meaning may vary for some words like this. – Kris Oct 16 '18 at 9:40

Dismay describes an emotional state of alarm, fear, or serious disappointment.

You can employ the word dismay to describe how you feel in a variety of negative situations that you doubt you are able to handle.


The different nuances that the term conveys are probably rooted in its origin:

c. 1300, dismaien, "become or be alarmed, upset, or frightened; to confound, break down the courage of by danger or difficulty or fear of calamity, fill with despairing apprehension;" perhaps formed in Anglo-French or Middle English from dis-, here probably intensive (see dis-), + amaien, esmaien, from Old French esmaier "to trouble, disturb."

This is from Vulgar Latin exmagare "divest of power or ability" (source of Italian smagare "to weaken, dismay, discourage"), from ex- (see ex-) + Proto-Germanic *magan "to be able"...

There also was an Old French desmaier (attested only in past participle dismaye), from de-, intensive prefix, + Old French esmaier, which also might be the source of the Middle English word.


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From Ozdic.com, the following is a short list of the most common collocations used with dismay. Click on the link for the complete list.


deep, great
- The government has expressed ‘deep dismay’ at police violence against protesters.
| growing, mounting | widespread

- I felt a mounting dismay at the prospect.
| express | hide
- It was impossible to hide my dismay at what I had seen.
| cause
- The laws on hunting cause dismay to many animal lovers.
| be regarded with, be greeted with, be viewed with
- The news was greeted with widespread dismay.

(much) to your dismay
- Much to my dismay, she was out when I called.

From Fraze.it

  1. Some Republicans at the Capitol have privately expressed dismay at his decision
  2. His teacher, to his dismay, wasn't that impressed by his 12-plus hours of labor.
  3. I have watched Ms. Attkisson's reporting in the past few years with great dismay
  4. Last year, my girlfriend and I split up, much to my dismay, as I still loved her.

  5. His disappearance has triggered an unprecedented flood of international dismay.

  6. God rest ye merry gentlemen and don't let the winter weather cause you any dismay

  7. Such is the ridiculous level the press has stooped to with this man. He keeps proving the naysayers wrong though, much to the [sic] their utter dismay.

  8. Still, few advocates of intelligent design tried to hide their dismay with the judge's decision. The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank, wrote that the judge has a "pernicious understanding of what intellectual and religious freedom in America means”

  9. ... ordered the Tuscarora Farm organic beet salad and prepared to have my taste buds tickled. Embarrassingly, I couldn't hide my dismay as I bit down into a roasted baby beet, some watercress, and foamy goat cheese. The texture of beets, chewy but not smooth, has always unsettled me as much as the taste, and my sister cracked up as I lunged for my water to wash down the rest of the bite.

I would suggest that when dismay is a noun, its meaning is closer to consternation, alarm and disillusionment. Adjectives such as great, utter, and deep help convey better the level of severity, but sometimes the degree of alarm or disillusionment etc. can only be ascertained through context.

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  • Both answers downvoted...wellcone to ELU :) – Gio Dec 17 '18 at 7:58

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