What is Purple Prose?

atkins-bookshelf-literatureNo, it is not text from the novel The Color Purple. Purple prose is a pejorative term for overly descriptive, ornate, and verbose writing that emphasizes pretentiousness over clarity and succinctness. Purple prose can easily be identified by its overuse of adjectives, metaphors, figurative language, complex words, needless tangents, and long sentences. Although the bane of English teachers, purple prose is actually applauded by the judges of the annual Buller-Lytton Fiction contest who honor (in jest, of course) the worst sentences in the world. The term was coined by the Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus who referred to pompous, grandiloquent language as purpureus pannus, a purple garment (purple was considered a symbol of grandeur).

Below are some samples of normal writing compared with purple prose (in italic):
She lay on her bed dreaming.

She lay upon her silken sheets in her ornately embellished robes of satin, her chest ascending and descending easily with every passing second, deep inside the caverns of her subconscious mind.

The sad dog walked home.

The lugubrious mongrel ambled into its dwelling, despairing over the cruel aggravations life endows on our weakened shoulders. Silently, the unfortunate canine sauntered into his domicile, knowing that tomorrow, only depression and despair awaited his frail frame. “I’m in despair” the bitter canine howled. “Life’s hopelessness has left me in despair.”

Read related posts: The Worst Sentence Ever Written
The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2014
The Best Sentences in English Literature

Best Books for Word Lovers
Best Books for Writers
Most Famous Quotations in British Literature

For further reading: http://www.nytimes.com/1985/12/15/books/in-defense-of-purple-prose.html?pagewanted=all

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