• fluorescent and unnaturally colored, emitting a harsh glow
  • the level of shock value and explicitness of details, usually pertaining to violence or sex
  • having a wan and sallow appearance, ranging from yellow to gray tones
  • describing savage and outrageous behavior


Lurid, though a short word, holds a few different meanings and uses. The most common use of lurid is to describe the color of objects with a bright or unnatural glow. This can illustrate things like chemically enhanced colors on foods, displeasing fluorescent signs, or the reddish hue of a fire behind smoke. This description tends to hold a negative connotation, as the aesthetic of the object being described is unattractive and not well perceived by observers.

In journalism specifically, lurid relates to the writing technique of using a piece's shock value to gain popularity. This happens when journalists attempt to grab the readers' attention with graphic and explicit details or images, especially when writing of crimes, violence, or sexual matters. In this sense, lurid qualities are usually viewed negatively, as they can appear unexpectedly, offend readers, and even prove distractive from real issues.

The original definition of lurid described a wan appearance of a gray or yellow tone; however, the word's popularity has been in decline since the 1700s. Lurid was most commonly used to describe the rotting skin or teeth of sick people, or even the dead. It could also describe things that caused people's skin to pale, such as poisonous herbs, horrific sights, or death.

Another less common usage of lurid characterizes behavior as being savage and outrageous in nature. This usage describes a behavior as being violent or gruesome, similar to the journalistic definition of the word. Lurid behavior is understood to affront people or causes dissenting repercussions.

Example: The lurid shade of the snack made the parents wary of giving it to their children.

Example: The crime show gave such lurid details that she couldn't watch it anymore.

Example: After several weeks in the hospital, his skin became lurid from lack of sunlight.

Example: Her lurid actions in the past prevented her from having hope for a positive future.

Derivative Words

Luridly: The adverb form of the word is used to describe actions that are lurid.

Example: The light shone luridly, causing them to cover their eyes.

Luridness: The noun form of lurid tends to be used in the context of vulgar journalism or sickly appearances.

Example: The article's luridness disappointed and offended many readers.


Since lurid has more than one meaning, it perhaps makes sense that the word also has more than one possible origin. The origin most supported by evidence comes from the Latin word lūridus, which details the pale yellow color of skin and teeth. Lūridus can also describe ghastly things like poison or death that can turn someone's skin pale. This application of the word was popularized as an adjective used to describe aftermath of the eruption of Pompeii; the roman writer Pliny the Younger portrayed the images of the people and the sun shining through the sky as having a dusty and pale film, or being lūridus in color. In English, this definition of lurid can be traced back to its first use in 1603.

The previous origin of lurid can come across as surprising, since today the word usually relates to bright and fluorescent colors. This might be because lurid could also take root from the Greek word khloros, which means "glowing in the darkness." This definition of lurid was first used to depict the vivid appearance of fire behind smoke in the 1700s.

It was not until the 1800s that lurid was associated with the sensational and graphic details of a story. This specific use of the word can be tied to both origins, as gruesome details can cause a person's skin to pale and graphic images tend to be displeasing and harsh in color.

Literary Reference

From Nathanial Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter:

"It is a curious subject of observation and inquiry, whether hatred and love be not the same thing at the bottom…Philosophically considered, therefore, the two passions seem essentially the same, except that one happens to be seen in a celestial radiance, and the other in a dusky lurid glow."

Here, lurid is used to contrast the figurative appearances of love and hate. Hawthorne describes love as having "a celestial radiance," something gratifying and beautiful; however, hate emits "a dusky lurid glow," which conjures the image of paleness and dullness. The author applies lurid to highlight the negative and unwanted reception of hatred.


  • Lurid lights loom lavishly.



Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of lurid. Did you use lurid in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.