abysmal, abyssal
The currency of these two words is in inverse proportion to that of the parent words: abysmal, with its figurative meaning ‘very bad’ and a literal meaning relating to gorges, outer space, etc., is common, whereas abyssal is limited to technical usage in oceanography, ‘belonging to one of the deepest levels of the ocean’ (e.g. in the term abyssal floor) and geology, where it has a meaning, similar to plutonic, relating to igneous rock (as in abyssal hills). By contrast, abyss is still used (usually in figurative uses denoting disaster, e.g. They are staring into the abyss), whereas abysm (under 20 in the OEC) is not. Examples of abysmal: (figurative)

• The day was hot, the organisation…excellent, and the cricket of generally abysmal quality —Wisden Cricket Monthly, 1992

• Video ads have been tried many times before and, each time, have been abysmal failures —Aardvark Daily, NewZE 2004 [OEC]

• The US is not alone in its abysmal ignorance of the democratic processes of countries it considers its staunchest allies —Cherwell Magazine Online, 2005 [OEC]

• (literal) Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea —P. Allardice, 1990.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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  • Abysmal — A*bys mal, a. Pertaining to, or resembling, an abyss; bottomless; unending; profound. [1913 Webster] Geology gives one the same abysmal extent of time that astronomy does of space. Carlyle. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • abysmal — (adj.) 1650s, formed in English from ABYSM (Cf. abysm) + AL (Cf. al) (1). Weakened sense of extremely bad is first recorded 1904, perhaps from abysmal ignorance (suggestive of its depth ), an expression attested from 1847. Related: Abysmally …   Etymology dictionary

  • abysmal — [adj1] great extent; immeasurable bottomless, boundless, complete, deep, endless, extreme, illimitable, incalculable, infinite, profound, thorough, unending, unfathomable, vast; concepts 772,793 Ant. infinite abysmal [adj2] extending deeply… …   New thesaurus

  • abysmal — [ə biz′məl] adj. [ ABYSM + AL] 1. of or like an abyss; bottomless; unfathomable 2. wretched to the point of despair; immeasurably bad [abysmal poverty] abysmally adv …   English World dictionary

  • abysmal — index profound (intense) Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • abysmal — *deep, profound Analogous words: illimitable, *infinite Contrasted words: *superficial, shallow …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • abysmal — ► ADJECTIVE 1) informal extremely bad. 2) literary very deep. DERIVATIVES abysmally adverb …   English terms dictionary

  • abysmal — adjective Date: circa 1656 1. a. having immense or fathomless extension downward, backward, or inward < an abysmal cliff > b. immeasurably great ; profound …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • abysmal — [[t]əbɪ̱zm(ə)l[/t]] ADJ GRADED If you describe a situation or the condition of something as abysmal, you think that it is very bad or poor in quality. Our abysmal record at producing scientifically trained and numerate manpower will cripple us …   English dictionary

  • abysmal — adj. 1 colloq. extremely bad (abysmal weather; the standard is abysmal). 2 profound, utter (abysmal ignorance). Derivatives: abysmally adv. Etymology: archaic or poet. abysm = ABYSS, f. OF abi(s)me f. med.L abysmus …   Useful english dictionary

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