• gruesome, upsetting, horrible
  • pertaining to violent, gory, or strange death or injury
  • relating to the allegorical dance of death, the danse macabré


Macabre, though not a common word, has a few different uses that can be applied easily in conversation. One meaning of macabre describes something horrific or disturbing. It conveys the intense displeasure or disturbance caused by an action or event. An instance of macabre could be a piece of horror or any other sinister tale that scares someone greatly. Things don't have to be simply scary or relate directly to death to be macabre, as the word can really describe any scenario that disturbs us on a deep level. This type of macabre situation is not specific to a certain death, violence, or fear. Watching a dramatic film dealing with famine or perhaps disease can be macabre in nature if it is greatly upsetting to viewers.

A second use of macabre is very similar to the previous application; however, it is specific to abnormal and cruel injuries or deaths. Macabre in this sense is much more severe, as it relates to the perishing of a being. For instance, news coverage that highlights violent murders or accidents would be a macabre report. In fiction, a good example of macabre deaths is in Edgar Allen Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," which describes murders that are gory and savage.

The final use of macabre is the most specific of the three. This application is only associated with the "danse macabré," which is a historical French dance symbolic of death. Macabre is not typically used in this way today, but it is especially relevant in subjects of history, literature, or anything relating to fifteenth century France. Again, there are strictly adverse feelings connected to this usage as the dance was associated with famine, Hundred Years' War, and the Black Death.

Example: Walking into that abandoned house was scary, but seeing limbless dolls strewn around the floor was a particularly macabre scene.

Example: The French Revolution was a macabre period, prevalent with violent mobs and massacres.

Example: In A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens describes the Carmagnole, which is a macabre dance.


Macabre originated in the beginning of the fifteenth century as an adaptation of the phrase "danse macabré", which is a French dance symbolic of death that appeared in 1376. The relation of the word macabré—and later macabre—to death and perishing most likely comes from a translation of "chorea machabæorum" or "dance of the Maccabees." The Maccabees were commonly associated with mortality because of their martyrdom in scripture. The meaning of macabre began to include a sense of grotesqueness in the mid to late 1800's .

Derivative Words

Macabrely is an adverb form of macabre, used to describe any gruesome or violent action.

Example: The murderer in the movie attacked his victims macabrely, using strange weapons and methods each time.

In Literature

From Stephen King's Danse Macabre:

This is the real danse macabre, I suspect: those remarkable moments when the creator of a horror story is able to unite the conscious and subconscious mind with one potent idea.

In this instance, Stephen King is referencing the actual "danse macabré" to emphasize the grotesqueness and terror-inducing effects of true horror writing. Macabre is associated with the shaking of the soul to its core, and that is what King believes real horror can do.


  • Macabre manifests in morbid murders.



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