As Defined in the OED (HUM220/HUM303)

Gothic, adj. and n.

Pronunciation:  /ˈɡɒθɪk/

Forms:  16 Gotic, Gotiq(ue, Gothicke, Gottic, Gothiq, 16–17 Gothique, 16– Gothic.

Etymology:  < Latin gothicus, < Gothī (see Goth n.). Compare French gothique. adj.


  1. Of, pertaining to, or concerned with the Goths or their language.

1611   M. Smith in Bible (King James) Transl. Pref. 5   Vlpilas is haue translated the Scriptures into the Gothicke tongue.

1776   Gibbon Decline & Fall I. x. 244   Cassiodorus gratified the inclination of the conquerors in a Gothic history.

1845   J. Stoddart Gram. in Encycl. Metrop. 192/1   The Gothic substantive leik, body.

1892   Wright (title)    A Primer of the Gothic Language.


  1. = Mozarabic adj.

1867   tr. P. Guéranger’s Life St. Cecilia xviii. 164   The Gothic Church of Spain, whose Liturgy was compiled by St. Leander, Archbishop of Seville.

1874   Month Feb. 223   The old Gothic or Mozarabic rite.

1911   E. B. O’Reilly Heroic Spain 235   The Christians who were under Moorish rule..kept to the old Gothic ritual.


†2. Formerly used in extended sense, now expressed by Teutonic adj. and n.   or Germanic adj.1 and n.

1647   N. Bacon Hist. Disc. Govt. 96   Nor can any Nation upon earth shew so much of the ancient Gothique law as this Island hath.

1691   G. Etherege Let. to E. of M. in Hist. Adolphus 72   A Taudry ill-bred Rump; Whose brawny Limbs, and martial Face Proclaim her of the Gothick Race.

1721   Swift Let. to Pope 10 Jan. in Lett. Dr. Swift (1741) 18   As to Parliaments, I adored the wisdom of that Gothic Institution, which made them Annual.

1735   Visct. Bolingbroke Diss. upon Parties (ed. 2) 102   Maintaining the Freedom of our Gothick Institution of Government.

1832   F. Palgrave Rise & Progr. Eng. Commonw. I. 500   There is no Gothic feudality unless the parties be connected by the mutual bond of Vassalage and Seigniory.

1837   J. R. McCulloch Statist. Acct. Brit. Empire I. ii. 400   The Gothic blood would seem to have been preserved pretty pure in all the country to the north and east of the Severn and the Exe.

1857   F. D. Maurice Epist. St. John xx. 336   He raised up the Gothic or Teutonic race.


1685   Dryden Albion & Albanius Pref. sig. b,   This Language [Italian] has in a manner been refin’d and purified from the Gothick, ever since the time of Dante.


†a. Belonging to, or characteristic of, the Middle Ages; mediæval, ‘romantic’, as opposed to classical. In early use chiefly with reprobation: Belonging to the ‘dark ages’ (cf. sense A. 4). Obs.  [Compare French les siècles gothiques.]

1695 [see sense A. 4].

1710   Ld. Shaftesbury Soliloquy 65   [The Elizabethan dramatists] have withal been the first of Europeans, who since the Gothick Model of Poetry, attempted to throw off the horrid Discord of jingling Rhyme.

1762   R. Hurd Lett. Chivalry & Romance vii. 56   He [sc. Spenser] could have planned, no doubt, an heroic design on the exact classic model: Or, he might have trimmed between the Gothic and Classic, as his contemporary Tasso did… Under this idea then of a Gothic, not classical poem, the Faery Queen is to be read and criticized.

1765   H. Walpole (title)    The Castle of Otranto, a Gothic Story.

1765   H. Walpole Let. to Cole 9 Mar.   A very natural dream for a head filled like mine with gothic story.

1771   J. Beattie Minstrel: Bk. 1st xiii. 7   There lived in Gothic days, as legends tell, A shepherd-swain.

1771   J. Beattie Minstrel: Bk. 1st lxii. 32   Here pause, my Gothic lyre, a little while.

1773   Johnson Let. 21 Sept. (1992) II. 71   A Castle in Gothick romances.

1782   W. Cowper Table Talk in Poems 564   He sunk in Greece, in Italy he rose, And, tedious years of Gothic darkness past, Emerged all splendour in our isle at last.


  1. A term for the style of architecture prevalent in Western Europe from the twelfth to the sixteenth century, of which the chief characteristic is the pointed arch. Applied also to buildings, architectural details, and ornamentation. (Also transf. of the wing of an aeroplane).The most usual names for the successive periods of this style in England are Early English (or First Pointed), Decorated, and Perpendicular, q.v.


Our quotations seem to show that the term was taken in the first instance from the French, and employed to denote any style of building that was not classical (Greek or Roman), but used by many writers as if derived immediately from sense A. 2.

c1660   J. Evelyn Diary anno 1641 (1955) II. 50   Harlem..hath one of the fairest Churches of the Gotique designe, I had ever seene.

1664   A. Wood Descr. Bampton Castle in Life & Times (1892) II. Plate 1,   The cheife gate-house where is a ruined entrance, [and] an old gothick window over it.

1713   Wren in Parentalia (1750) 297   This we now call the Gothick Manner of Architecture (so the Italians called what was not after the Roman style).

1739   C. Labelye Short Acct. Piers Westm. Bridge 44   Narrow Gothic Arches, supported by monstrous Piers.

1742   B. Langley Anc. Archit. Restored Dissert. i,   Every ancient Building which is not in the Grecian Mode is called a Gothic Building.

1750   S. Wren in Parentalia 273   They had not yet fallen into the Gothick pointed-arch.

1783   Crit. Rev. Public Buildings London (new ed.)    [The tower of St. Michael’s, Cornhill, is] in the Gothic style of architecture.

1801   Telford & Douglas Acc. Improvem. Port London 17   The whole external form of the bridge is to be composed of Gothic tracery.

a1839   W. M. Praed Poems (1864) I. 69   Some time-honoured Gothic pile.

1880   M. E. Braddon Just as I Am vii,   The cosy chair beside the Gothic fire~place.

1881   Trans. Amer. Inst. Mining Engineers May 1880-Feb. 1881 9 142   Gothic groove, a groove of Gothic arch section in a roll.

1959   J. L. Nayler Dict. Aeronaut. Engin. 121   Gothic wing, a wing whose plan form is like a Gothic window.

1961   Flight 80 966/2   The Super Caravelle wing is of gothic delta plan form with considerable leading edge camber.


  1. nonce-use. Concerned with Gothic buildings.

1875–7   J. Ruskin Mornings in Florence (1881) 48   As our Gothic Firms now manufacture a Madonna.


  1.   Gothic Revival  n. the reintroduction of a Gothic style of architecture towards the middle of the 19th cent. Also attrib. So Gothic Revivalist.

1869   C. L. Eastlake Hints Househ. Taste (ed. 2) i. 32   The earliest promoters of the Gothic revival appreciated the superficial effect of such features… The glories of the ‘fretted vault’ were not unfrequently imitated in lath and plaster.

1934   A. Huxley Beyond Mexique Bay 114   The Gothic revival in England was a product of the Oxford Movement.

1950   Oxoniensia 15 118   Jackson witnessed the evolution of the Gothic Revival.

1950   Oxoniensia 15 118   They, the Gothic Revivalists, had got the old dead style on its legs and propped it up, but they could not make it walk.

1958   R. Liddell Morea iii. ii. 243   A Gothic revival school building was a relic of the British protectorate.

1963   H. Read Contrary Experience iii. ix. 276   The Gothic Revival was almost a spent force when Ruskin began to publish The Stones of Venice in 1851.


  1. Barbarous, rude, uncouth, unpolished, in bad taste. Of temper: Savage.

1695   Dryden tr. R. de Piles in tr. C. A. Du Fresnoy De Arte Graphica 93   All that has nothing of the Ancient gust, is call’d a barbarous or Gothique manner.

1710   Ld. Shaftesbury Soliloquy 116   We are not altogether so barbarous or Gothick as they pretend.

a1715   Bp. G. Burnet Hist. Own Time (1734) II. 394   His [sc. Chas. XII] Temper grew daily more fierce and Gothick.

1732   G. Berkeley Alciphron I. v. xiii. 289   This Gothic Crime of Duelling.

1749   H. Fielding Tom Jones III. vii. iii. 22   ‘O more than Gothic Ignorance,’ answered the lady.

1782   F. Burney Cecilia II. iv. vi. 191   What he holds of all things to be most gothic, is gallantry to the women.

1812   Shelley Lett. in Prose Wks. (1888) II. 384   Enormities which gleam like comets through the darkness of gothic and superstitious ages.

1833   T. Chalmers On Power of God (1835) I. ii. i. 173   Such a gothic spoliation as this.

1841   J. T. J. Hewlett Parish Clerk I. 111   Dinner, which was eaten at the gothic hour of one o’clock.


  1. Writing and Printing.


†a. Used for some kind of written character (? resembling black letter).

c1660   J. Evelyn Diary anno 1644 (1955) II. 123   Some English words graven in Gotic Characters.

a1684   J. Evelyn Diary anno 1658 (1955) III. 206   He could perfectly reade any of the English, Latine, french or Gottic letters.


  1. In England, the name of the type commonly used for printing German, as distinguished from roman and italic characters. (Formerly, and still in non-technical use, equivalent to black letter.)

1781   T. Warton Hist. Eng. Poetry III. Diss. iii. sig. a2v,   This in the Gothic letter.

1824   J. Johnson Typographia II. i. 10   Black Letter. This letter, which is used in England, descended from the Gothic characters: it is called Gothic, by some; and Old English, by others.

1888   C. T. Jacobi Printers’ Vocab. 54   Gothic, an antique character of type similar to black letter.

1895   W. A. Copinger in Trans. Bibl. Soc. 2 ii. 111   Gothic type was the first in use..Roman character not being introduced till 1467.


  1. Applied in the U.S. to the type called in England grotesque n. and adj.   (also sans-ceriph, and, by some type-founders, doric; formerly stone letter).



  1. In combination with an adjective formed on a proper name: Gothic and; Gothic in connection with; as Gothic-Finnish, Gothic-Sarmatian, Gothic-Scandinavian.

1928   C. Dawson Age of Gods iv. 84   The Gothic-Sarmatian kingdom from the Crimea to the lower Danube.

1931   A. Senn in Jrnl. Eng. & Germanic Philol. 30 143 (title)    A contribution to Gothic-Finnish relations.

1965   Language 41 36   The theory of a Gothic-Scandinavian linguistic community distinct from the West Germanic languages.


  1. n. That which is Gothic.


  1. The Gothic language.



  1. A Gothic building.


  1. Gothic architecture or ornamentation.

c1660   J. Evelyn Diary anno 1644 (1955) II. 111   The style of the magnificence then in fashion, which was with to<o> greate a mixture of the Gotic.

1726   G. Leoni tr. L. B. Alberti Archit. Life 4   Ornaments, which..have I know not what in them of Gothick.

1757   Serenius Eng. & Swed. Dict. (ed. 2) Pref. 2   There are very few that have professedly treated the ancient Gothick.

1762   H. Walpole Vertue’s Anecd. Painting I. v. 109   Imitations of the Gothic.

1762   H. Walpole Vertue’s Anecd. Painting I. v. 112   The builders of Gothic.

1825   J. G. Lockhart in Scott Familiar Lett. (1894) II. 308   Then to..the Castle Chapel—the best by far of all modern Gothics.

1841   C. J. Lever Charles O’Malley lxxxii. 395   Gazing steadfastly on the fretted gothic of the ceiling.

1867   F. Max Müller Chips II. xx. 189   Gothic, as a language, is more ancient than Icelandic.

1915   Irish Eccl. Record July 50   Some of these new Gothics were designed by a priest.

1916   Irish Eccl. Record Sept. 209   The fine old walls..gave place to the Gothics.





  Goˈthicity  n. the quality of being Gothic.

1863   Ecclesiologist XXIV. 290   The absolute Gothicity of the general idea.

1889   Athenæum 16 Feb. 221/1   The crisp, sharp, and firm ‘Gothicity’ of the direct followers of the Van Eycks.


† ˈGothicly adv. Obs. in a Gothic manner, barbarously.

1777   W. Dalrymple Trav. Spain & Portugal xl,   The apartments are low..and Gothicly furnished.


  ˈGothicky adj. colloq. Gothic-like.

1893   K. D. Wiggin Cathedral Courtship 36   She’s going to build a Gothicky memorial chapel somewhere.


Draft additions  1993



  Of or pertaining to goth music or its followers: see Goth n. 3.

[1981   Melody Maker 4 July 9/6   Bauhaus are forced to rely on pure theatricality to further their reputation as Gothic-horror outlaw weirdos.]

1983   New Musical Express 24 Dec. 7/3   Why is this gothic glam so popular?

1986   Q Oct. 74/2   Love & Rockets used to be three quarters of Bauhaus..and are obviously finding life as gothic has-beens hard going.

1988   Sunday Tel. 6 Mar. 21/7   ‘The Gothic people will be pleased that black is still in,’ remarked Miss Fackrell, who teaches hair and beauty studies. Gothic people? They are all the young folk who go around wearing black, apparently.


Draft additions December 2007


  Of or designating a genre of fiction characterized by suspenseful, sensational plots involving supernatural or macabre elements and often (esp. in early use) having a medieval theme or setting.The novel typically regarded as the first of this genre, The Castle of Otranto (1765) by Horace Walpole, is subtitled ‘a Gothic story’ (cf. 17651 at sense A. 3a) in reference to its medieval setting; in this and similar early uses it is often difficult to distinguish between this sense and sense A. 3a.

1825   Scott Lives Novelists I. 139   To this improvement upon the gothic romance there are so many objections, that we own ourselves inclined to prefer..the narrative of Walpole.

1853   G. S. Hillard Six Months in Italy (1854) II. x. 233   The shapes and conceptions of Gothic fiction—the sheeted ghost gliding from the churchyard..—the groan mingling with the wind that sweeps through the aisles of a ruined chapel.

1889   E. Gosse Hist. 18th. Cent. Lit. ix. 301   This Gothic novel positively frightened grown-up people to the extent of making them unwilling to seek their beds.

1928   Cent. Mag. May 61/2   The evolution of the dime novel from the sixteenth century novella through the Gothic horror story of Monk Lewis or Mrs. Radcliffe.

1990   R. Critchfield Among British iv. 259   Britain is still supreme in the spy thriller, the detective story, the bestselling Gothic novel, and the bodice-ripper romance.


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