• Representing or displaying a degeneration of traditional morals, often from a state of affluence and general integrity
  • Having or displaying sensualist or gluttonous attitudes


  • A follower of a literary and artistic movement marked by imitation, beauty, and scandalous subjects (capitalized as a proper noun)
  • A person who emphasizes pleasure-seeking, sometimes to the exception of self-discipline


Although it takes some skill to understand the Muppets' Swedish Chef, almost anyone can see when he has created a decadent cooking masterpiece. Hopefully, this doesn't bring to mind the time when the Chef tried to make chocolate mousse by pouring melted chocolate on a live moose! Nonetheless, maybe watching him fool around in the kitchen will motivate us to increase the decadence of our own desserts.

Decadent usually refers to someone or something that has seemingly abandoned its principles and is on its way towards moral ruin. Oftentimes, this adjective is used to describe an empire or culture that has sacrificed either its morals or traditions (or both) in the hopes of gaining wealth, status, or other acclaim. These decadent nations knowingly, or unknowingly, begin a descent towards immorality in the search for worldly pleasures. One theory regarding the fall of Rome blames citizen's lack of virtue and the empire's overall decadent attitudes as the main cause of its collapse. As corruption is one of the connotations of something that is decadent, it follows that thinking of this word should conjure the picture of a steady decline or deterioration that ends in complete devastation. Many times, decadent people or places have fallen a long way from the luxuriousness that had once defined them.

Interestingly, decadent can also mean lavish or indulgent. Before the Roman Empire had fallen, its emperors were living quite decadent lives as they gorged themselves on decadent food while the lower class, or plebeians, went hungry. It should be noted that someone who is decadent usually does things in excess to the exclusion of morals or restraint. For instance, a wealthy businessman who spends hundreds of dollars in the casinos of Las Vegas would be considered decadent because he is gambling away a large amount of his hard earned money. On a sweeter scale, a Swedish baker may advertise her decadent cream-filled cakes: her patrons find that one sinfully tasty bite has them begging for more!

As a proper noun, Decadent becomes a title for adherents of the Decadent movement of the 19th century, which was characterized by literary and artistic expression that focused on aesthetics rather than reality. Decadents, such as Charles Baudelaire, experimented with their works of art, playing with ornate language and discussing what were, at the time, unheard of topics like sexuality and morbidity. Because of their departure from traditional subjects and styles, opponents of the movement negatively referred to it as Decadence, carrying the connotation of both overindulgence (in their appalling material) and depravity. The common noun decadent has now come to generally mean someone who is intemperate or hedonistic.

Example: Seeing the cold, decadent city caused him to imagine what it might have been like in its heyday.

Example: T.V. chef Gordon Ramsay probably craves a decadent meal at home after visiting a sub-par restaurant.

Example: The chilling works of Edgar Allan Poe became major inspiration for the Decadents.


Decadent can be traced back to the early 19th century from the French word décadent. The original word décadence comes from the Latin decadere, meaning "to decay," or more literally, "to fall down." After the late 19th century, in which the word was used to refer to the literary movement, as well as its supporters, that displayed a "decay" in principles, use of the adjective expanded to include people, things, or ideas that seemed extravagant and sinful. We can also see decadent being used to describe luxurious sweets beginning in the 1970s.

Derivative Words

Decadence: this noun refers to the downfall and decay of ethics or mores usually brought on by unnecessary luxury and hedonism.

Example: The decadence of the rich is unfathomable to many working-class families.

Decadently: this adverb describes someone or something that performs or behaves in a way that is unprincipled, excessive, or sumptuous.

Example: Our brother decadently spent the last of his inheritance on worldly pleasures.

In Literature

From John Maynard Keynes' National Self-Suffiency:

The decadent international but individualistic capitalism, in the hands of which we found ourselves after the War, is not a success. It is not intelligent, it is not beautiful, it is not just, it is not virtuous - and it doesn't deliver the goods.

In this quote, the famous British economist chastises the extravagant system of capitalism, which had effectively taken over the world following the First World War. He warns his listeners that although it was initially full of promise, capitalism had turned into a worthless and wasteful entity that has hurt people and the economy.


  • The elegant parties for the president must be decadent.
  • Decadent acts can lead to decay.

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