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In Defense of Purple

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Purple prose: “Overly ornate prose text that may disrupt a narrative flow by drawing undesirable attention to its own extravagant style of writing, thereby diminishing the appreciation of the prose overall.”

Mm. Maybe. Aren’t we supposed to want to read something beautiful for beauty’s sake? By the definition it becomes purple when something is disruptive in its ornate nature, but where is that line? Is there a definable line? I say there is not. Here is why in a single comparison.

Example 1: Money, fame and power do not buy happiness. They just attract attention to the failures it creates.

Dull. Cliché. To the point, not interrupting anything. Yawn…bored.

Example 2: It has been observed in all ages the advantages to nature or of fortune have contributed very little to the promotion of happiness; and that those of whom the splendor of their rank, or the extent of their capacity, have placed upon the summits of human life, have not often given any just occasion to envy in those who look up to them from a lower station; whether it be that apparent superiority incites great designs, and great designs are naturally liable to fatal miscarriages; or that the general lot of mankind is misery, and the misfortunes of those whose eminence drew them an universal attention , have been more carefully recorded, because they were more generally observed, and have in reality only been more conspicuous than others, not more frequent, or more severe.

I will take option 2 every time.

That is the opening line of The Life of Savage, by Samuel Johnson.

It is purple. It is deep, it is beautiful and it is deeper than the unobtrusive TLDR version above. It DOES draw attention to itself, but not to any detriment.

When someone says a piece is too purple, they may be right. Or, they may be in a rush. Sometimes beautiful things are meant to be consumed slowly, and observed for their beauty, not their utility of words.

Purple has its place.

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