General English

  • adjective cold and unpleasant
  • adjective showing no sign of hope


  • A small freshwater fish of the carp family found in European rivers. Cooked like sprats.

Origin & History of “bleak”

Bleak originally meant ‘pale’, and comes ultimately from an Indo-European base *bhleg-, possible source of black and a variant of *phleg-, which produced Greek phlégein ‘burn’ and Latin flagrāre ‘burn’ (whence English conflagration and flagrant; flame, fulminate, and refulgent are also closely related). From *bhleg- came the prehistoric Germanic adjective *blaikos ‘white’, from which Old English got blāc ‘pale’ (the sense relationship, as with the possibly related blaze, is between ‘burning’, ‘shining brightly’, ‘white’, and ‘pale’). this survived until the 15th century in southern English dialects as bloke, and until the 16th century in the north as blake. Its disappearance was no doubt hastened by its resemblance to black, both formally and semantically, since both ‘pale’ and ‘dark’ carry implications of colourlessness. Blake did however persist in Northern dialects until modern times in the sense ‘yellow’. Meanwhile, around the middle of the 16th century bleak had begun to put in an appearance, borrowed from a close relative of bloke/blake, Old Norse bleikr ‘shining, white’. The modern sense ‘bare’ is recorded from very early on.

A derivative of the Germanic base *blaik- was the verb *blaikjōn, source of Old English blǣcan ‘whiten’, the ancestor of modern English bleach (which may be related to blight). And a nasalized version of the stem may have produced blink (14th c.).