a. Characterized by vivid description or explicit details that are meant to provoke or shock: a lurid account of the crime.
b. Characterized by shocking or outrageous behavior: a friend with a lurid past.
a. Bright and intense in color; vivid: “the whole loud overbright town like the lurid midway of a carnival” (Paul Theroux).
b. Sallow or pallid: “An early work of Caravaggio's, this self-portrait shows the artist's lurid pallor after being hospitalized” (Rachel Shirley).
[Latin lūridus, pale, from lūror, paleness.]
Word History: It may seem surprising that English lurid, which sometimes means “vivid,” comes from Latin lūridus, “pale, sallow, sickly yellow,” used to describe the color of things like skin or teeth. Latin lūridus could also describe horrifying or ghastly things like poisonous herbs or even death itself—things that make a person turn pale. In an account of the volcanic eruption that buried the city of Pompeii, the Roman writer Pliny the Younger used lūridus to describe the unsettling color of the sun shining through a cloud of ash. When lurid first appeared in English in the mid-1600s, it described things that are pale in a sickly or disturbing way. Lurid was also used of gray, overcast skies. In the 1700s, writers began to use lurid to describe the red glow of fire blazing dimly within smoke. In the 1800s, the word acquired an additional meaning, the one it most commonly has today when we reveal the lurid details of a horrifying or sensationalistic story.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.