Purple prose

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This article is about the literary term. For the album by Deep Purple, see Purple Passages.

In literary criticism, purple prose is prose text that is so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw excessive attention to itself.[1] Purple prose is characterized by the extensive use of adjectives, adverbs, zombie nouns, and metaphors. When it is limited to certain passages, they may be termed purple patches or purple passages, standing out from the rest of the work.

Purple prose is criticised often enough for it to take, in novelist Paul West's words, "a certain amount of sass to speak up for prose that's rich, succulent and full of novelty. Purple is [widely seen as] immoral, undemocratic and insincere; at best artsy, at worst the exterminating angel of depravity."[2]


The term purple prose is derived from a reference by the Roman poet Horace[3][4] (Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 65–8 BC) who wrote in his Ars Poetica (lines 14–21):[5]

Inceptis grauibus plerumque et magna professis
purpureus, late qui splendeat, unus et alter
adsuitur pannus, cum lucus et ara Dianae
et properantis aquae per amoenos ambitus agros
aut flumen Rhenum aut pluuius describitur arcus;
sed nunc non erat his locus. Et fortasse cupressum
scis simulare; quid hoc, si fractis enatat exspes
nauibus, aere dato qui pingitur?
"Your opening shows great promise, and yet flashy
purple patches; as when describing
a sacred grove, or the altar of Diana,
or a stream meandering through fields,
or the river Rhine, or a rainbow;
but this was not the place for them. If you can realistically render
a cypress tree, would you include one when commissioned to paint
a sailor in the midst of a shipwreck?"

In culture[edit]

Northwestern Magazine calls the 800-word personal essay found in every issue Purple Prose.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "A Word a Day – purple prose". Wordsmith.org. Retrieved 26 December 2014. 
  2. ^ West, Paul (15 December 1985). "IN DEFENSE OF PURPLE PROSE". New York Times. Retrieved 26 December 2014. 
  3. ^ Nixon, Cheryl (2008-12-30). Novel Definitions. Broadview Press. pp. 194–. ISBN 9781770482074. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 
  4. ^ Macrone, Michael (1994-05-18). It's Greek to Me. HarperCollins. pp. 147–. ISBN 9780062720443. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 
  5. ^ Horace (18 BC). Ars Poetica. Lines 14–21.
  6. ^ Russell, Stephanie. "Purple Prose Guidelines". Northwestern Magazine. Retrieved 26 December 2014. 
  • Coles Editorial Board, Dictionary of Literary Terms, Rama Brothers, 2001.