Ten·​e·​brae ˈte-nə-ˌbrā How to pronounce Tenebrae (audio)
plural in form but singular or plural in construction
: a church service observed during the final part of Holy Week commemorating the sufferings and death of Christ

Word History


borrowed from Medieval Latin, "office sung during Holy Week during which candles are extinguished after each psalm," going back to Latin tenebrae (plural) "darkness, obscurity," by dissimilation from *temebrai, going back to Indo-European *temH-s-ro-/*temH-es-ro- (whence also Sanskrit támisrāḥ, plural, "darkness, night," Germanic *þemestra- "dark"—whence Middle Dutch deemster "dark," Old High German dinstar, finstar), adjective derivative from a noun *temH-es- "darkness" — more at temerity

Note: Also most likely related are Old English þēostre, þīestre "dark, gloomy," Old Frisian thiustere, Old Saxon thiustri, assuming that *-ems-, through shift of m to a nasalized semi-vowel and denasalization, became a diphthong *-iu̯-. Old High German finstar (whence Modern German finster) and Middle Dutch vinster probably go back to a shift of *þim- to *fim- (the initial fricative taking on the labial quality of the following m), with later assimilation of m to n before following -st-.

First Known Use

1651, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of Tenebrae was in 1651

Dictionary Entries Near Tenebrae

Cite this Entry

“Tenebrae.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Tenebrae. Accessed 7 Dec. 2022.

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