The popular online resource Dictionary.com defines purple prose as: “writing that calls attention to itself because of its obvious use of certain effects, as exaggerated sentiment or pathos, especially in an attempt to enlist or manipulate the reader’s sympathies.” Let’s take a closer look at the origin of this expression.
Purple dye goes back to ancient times – originally produced from the secretions of sea snails found in the Mediterranean Sea. It became known as Tyrian purple – named after the Lebanese coastal city Tyre. Large amounts of the snail extract are required to make the dye, taking up to 250,000 snails to yield one ounce. Due to the production process, the much sought-after colour remained an expensive commodity for centuries. Until such time as a synthetic dye surfaced in the early 1900s, only royalty and the wealthy could afford clothing dyed with Tyrian purple. As a result, most people considered purple cloth to be ostentatious or excessively ornate. Nowadays, the phrases “purple prose”, “purple patch” and “purple passages” denote flowery and over-the-top writing.