50 Words Deemed Too Purple for Prose

bibliobibuli

Long time readers of my blog may be familiar with a frequently updated word list I curate called The Dictionary of Purple Prose. Whenever I’m running around the internet or reading and come across a delightful, quirky, or elegant word, I add it to the list for others’ enjoyment. It’s almost been a full year since the last time time I updated the list, so I’ve pulled out my notebook and added them in. Conveniently (at least for the sake of this blog post’s title), there were exactly 50.

For the sake of those that are not familiar with the term “purple prose,” Wikipedia defines it as:

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. 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.”

Now, while I think every rule has its reasoning and I understand that to add three or four complex words in a sentence when simple alternatives will do, I also think that many beautiful words get a bad wrap, and I’d hate to see them fade into obscurity. So I made The Dictionary of Purple Prose, a little haven for the gems of the English language.

How many in this list are you familiar with? Can you think of any more that deserve a slot on the list? What are you favorite words? Lexicologists, unite!

  • accismus – (noun) a feigned refusal of something earnestly desired.
  • akimbo – (adverb) with hands on the hips and elbows turned outwards.
  • aubade – (noun) a poem or piece of music appropriate to the dawn or early morning.
  • bagatelle – (noun) 1. a thing regarded as too unimportant or easy to be worth much consideration; 2. a short, light piece of music, especially one for the piano.
  • battologize – (verb) to repeat (a word, phrase, mannerism, etc.) excessively.
  • bibliobibuli – (noun) to be drunk on books.
  • bibliophagist – (noun) one who reads books omnivorously.
  • bibliosmia – (noun) the act of smelling a book for pleasure.
  • bivouac – (noun) a temporary camp without tents or cover, used especially by soldiers or mountaineers.
  • book-bosomed – (noun) a person who carries a book at all times.
  • chantage – (noun) the extortion of money by blackmail.
  • cogswoggled – (verb) Slang. Used similarly to “I’ll be damned.”
  • concatenate – (verb) to link together as in a chain. (noun) a series of things depending on or resulting from each other.
  • concupiscence – (noun) a strong, sexual desire; lust.
  • cunctation – (noun) someone who delays or procrastinates.
  • debouch – (verb) to issue or emerge , to march or flow out from a narrow pass or confined place.
  • deuteragonist – (noun) the second actor in a Greek drama; the most important character after the protagonist.
  • eldritch – (adj.) unearthly or supernatural; uncanny.
  • epeolatry – (noun) the worship of words.
  • enfilade – (noun) 1. a number of things arranged as if threaded on a string; 2. a discharge of firearms that sweeps a line or position from end to end (military); 3. a series of rooms with the doors in line affording a continuous passage; 4. a vista; 5. a situation or a body open from end to end.
  • flibbertigibbet – (noun) a frivolous, flighty, or excessively talkative person.
  • frisson – (noun) a shiver, shudder, or thrill.
  • fusillade – (noun) 1. a simultaneous or continuous discharge of firearms; 2. anything assaulting one in a similar way, a barrage (lit and figurative).
  • garrulity – (adj.) talkative; loquacious; wordy, voluble. Also, garrulous.
  • imbroglio – (noun) 1. a confused mass or heap; 2. an intricate or perplexing situation, a tangle; 3. an embroilment; 4. an ordered confusion (music).
  • jocund – (adj.) mirthful, merry, cheerful, pleasant.
  • lachrymose – (adj.) shedding tears; tearful, given to weeping; lugubrious, mournful.
  • literarian – (noun) a person well-read in literature.
  • loquacious – (adj.) talkative.
  • lorthew – (noun) Archaic. A teacher.
  • maudlin – (adj.) weeping (archaic); foolishly lachrymose, esp when in a fuddled, half-drunk state; weakly sentimental.
  • maugre – (adv.) out of spite or ill-will; (verb) to show ill-will towards.
  • ménage – (noun) a household; the management of a house.
  • meretricious – (adj.) 1. of the nature of or relating to prostitution or characteristic of a prostitute; 2. superficially attractive but of no real value or merit; 3. flashy, gaudy, insincere.
  • meritorious – (adj.) 1. possessing merit or deserving of reward, honour, or praise.
  • metanoia – (noun) repentance; a fundamental change in character, way of life, etc; a spiritual conversion.
  • morosoph – (noun) a philosophical or educated fool.
  • opalescence – (adj.) exhibiting a milky iridescence like that of opal.
  • parallelepipeds – (noun) a solid figure bounded by six parallelograms, opposite pairs being identical and parallel.
  • persnickety – (adj.) placing too much emphasis on trivial or minor details; fussy. British: pernickety.
  • pugilistic – (noun) the art or practice of boxing; prize-fighting.
  • quake-buttock – (noun) a coward.
  • quidnunc – (noun) an inquisitive , gossiping person.
  • sartor – (noun) a tailor. Also, sartorial – of or relating to a tailor, tailoring, or dress.
  • scurrilous – (adj.) 1. indecently abusive and unjustifiably defamatory; 2. characterized by vulgar or obscene humor.
  • thrasonical – (adj.) boastful or bragging.
  • tumultuous – (adj.) haphazard, chaotic.
  • uhtceare – (noun) the act of lying awake before dawn and worrying.
  • ultracrepidarian – (noun) someone who is in the habit of giving advice on matters he himself knows nothing about.
  • vestibule – (noun) 1. an entrance hall; 2. a cavity serving as entrance to another, esp that of the inner ear (anatomy); 3. part of a railway carriage connecting with and giving access to the next (N American); 4. a forecourt (ancient hist).

47 thoughts on “50 Words Deemed Too Purple for Prose

  1. Wonderful! I’m familiar with 22 of the 50, and could surface usage of 17. Just a week or so ago, I used “opalescent.” As far as I know, none of my readers suffered because of it.

    I became so irritated over the issue a couple of years ago, I engaged in the nearest thing to a rant I can produce, and wrote a post extolling the virtues of bigger words and longer sentences. I stand by it all. Now, I’m off to ponder the words on your list I didn’t know.

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    1. I agree with you. I’m also in the camp of adverbs not being evil things. English is a beautiful language, and every part of it has its place. Adverbs, too. Archaic or old-fashioned words, too.

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  2. Well, I am familiar with 23 of them but not sure if I’ve ever actually used any in speech or writing. My mother had the word ‘stupiotic’, which she used to describe folks who she thought were ‘stupid idiots’.

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    1. That’s a great word, haha. Thanks for sharing! And yes, I don’t use many, myself… but they’re good to have, because sometimes, it’s just that ONE word that is best, and no other. 🙂

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  3. Oh my, I thought I sometimes used big words. I’m happy to see I’ve only used two of these in my fiction: tumultuous and vestibule. And I’m not even sure I used vestibule, but it’s possible I did. 🙂

    But I agree–some of these words are lovely, and I wouldn’t mind occasionally stumbling upon them!

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    1. I found a huge chunk of these in a translation of the Arabian Nights. Classic texts are definitely the best place to find colorful language!

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  4. Is “bivouac” really all that unusual? I put it in the mouth of a teenage boy. (Or was it being *addressed* to a teenage boy? Maybe it was…) Of course, it was in a military situation, in the Late Bronze Age…but I thought it was a pretty common word…

    I’ve used “akimbo” and “eldritch” and “loquacious” and “persnickety” and “pugilistic” and “tumultuous,” too. I know a number of the others, as well, but haven’t had cause to use them in a story.

    I think my favorite word on that list has to be “quake-buttock” though. Never seen it before, but it’s wonderfully descriptive. I’ve gotta find a use for that; it’s hilarious.

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    1. Yes, I had a good laugh over that one, too! And flibbertigibbet. That one was super fun to say. This list also challenged the Oxford Dictionary admirably. I had to use Chambers and some other online sources to even find the definitions of quite a few of these. 🙂

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  5. We met at a dinosaur party a little bit ago. My name is Abbie. You seem like the sort of person I could be frightfully wondrous with, so I popped over to say hey! I like your Purple Prose Dictionary, great idea! I’m ashamed to say I only knew about three out of those fifty words!!!

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    1. Pleasure to meet you, A! Looking forward to getting to know you better, and no fears. I list them all, but even I don’t know them by heart. 🙂 Hence the dictionary. ^_^

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    1. Please feel free, haha. I do plan to turn it into a book when the list gets to about 500 or so. 🙂 It remains the most popular feature on my blog…. so I better keep it alive!

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    1. It’s a great quote. He’s the one that coined the term bibliobibuli, so it felt right to put him there. 🙂

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  6. Alex, I could gobble up these words wth a spoon. I’m sure, that given the right genre and a careful pen, one could continue to keep these beautiful bold words in front of appreciative eyes.
    I’m just finishing up the edits on a historical fiction, and I’m determined to insert about three of them somewhere in the manuscript. They’ll be perfect–for an arrogant, blowhard of a character I have who always feels he should use ten words where two would suffice.
    Bonus in your blog today. Score!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wordy O’s? Lexicon Crunch? I wonder what flavor a verbose cereal would take.

      I agree with you. A lot of these call for a certain genre. About half of these new words all came from a very old translation of the Arabian Nights. But the story came to life with those little gems littered about like a treasure room… so it’s become a hope of mine to endow my writing with as much depth of language as possible (without sacrificing reading experience).

      Oooo, sounds like a character I’ll have fun reading. 🙂 Can’t wait!

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  7. I knew quite of few of them. A couple you named are used around my house at times. My husband is a painter so he has used the vestibule and we’ve used tumultuous when talking about some of our students’ home situations. I’ve used the word frission in my fiction before. Now I feel a little purplish.

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    1. A little purple looks good on anyone. 😉 And I think just a touch, a tint, helps any work of fiction stand out a little better.

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  8. What’s wrong with bivouac? It’s a good specific word if you write about mountaineers. In fact, some of these examples are pretty normal words, like vestibule.

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    1. Yep, they’re normal words, a fair amount of them… but there are a lot of people who don’t know them anymore, which makes them stick out to a portion of the modern reader.

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      1. I’m using fairly simple language in my writing (and English is not my native), but if I know a specific word for certain things, I’d use that word. Sometimes I *want* a specific word, since my characters are specialists in certain areas. The worst that can happen to a writer is when readers don’t get your idea (or simply won’t notice its extent) because they are not familiar with he subject, special words or not. But for the sake of those readers who do understand what the writer is talking about it’s better to use the pro word, because they will certainly be familiar with it and *expect* its use.

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  9. I only knew 10 of these words! I feel like such an underachiever 😦
    … but what really caught my attention and sent me scurrying to Mr Google for more info was “zombie noun”. This is an expression I’ve never heard before and I simply love it.
    I must find a reason to use 😉

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    1. Zombie noun is a great term. 🙂 Most editor/trope phrases are pure gold, like as-you-know-Bob, or too-stupid-to-live. Zombie noun definitely gets its idea across!

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  10. I’ve heard of (*counts her tallies*) 14 of the words you listed! A couple of them were actually in books I recently read.

    I actually don’t mind finding words I’ve never heard of when I’m reading. I write them in a journal, and then look up their definitions later and write them down. Not necessarily because I plan to use them later, but because it will help internalize the words and their meanings.

    And I’m also in Joanne Sisco’s camp: I’ve never heard of the term “zombie noun” until now…

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  11. Haha, my blog is practically all purple prose and I will apologize to no one. I consider it a kind of payback for all the drab, soullessly concise essays I had to write in my university days.

    Also, the existence of the term “bibliosmia” makes me infinitely happy.

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    1. You do you!! I love your blog, you know that. 😀 and yeah, it tickled me to know there was a word for that ‘aaaaaaaah’ feeling. XD

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  12. Have you read _The Uncommon Reader_ by Alan Bennett? It’s a novella that I’ve read at least four times. I love it!!! This post makes me think of it. It’s about a young man who assists the queen of England with acquiring a literary education. It’s absolutely fabulous and resulted in my favorite word: amanuensis. That’s the man’s title, like a human Google: you’re reading along and come across a word, a country, a historical figure you’d like to know more about, and he goes and gathers information for you.

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  13. Great list, Alex. It struck me that some of these words might be seen as archaic in some dialects, but no so in others. For instance, ‘maudlin’ is not uncommon in Ireland (and there’s probably an easy psychological explanation for that) and I’d imagine ‘vestibule’ would be common parlance for anyone who spent any time hanging around churches, let alone painters. ‘Imbroglio’ and ‘scurrilous’ are words which, once learned by politicians, seem to be trotted out every single time they speak thereafter. So maybe keep this beautiful dictionary away from them!

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    1. Haha, yes, there is a certain danger where verbosity and politicians are concerned. 😉 They do like to cloak their meaning as much as possible. But you’re right… A lot of these words do get the “archaic” stamp from Oxford, or don’t appear in the dictionary at all! I had to use other sources to find the definitions.

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  14. Alex, I find it so funny that, even if I’ve never come across these words, I understand most of them because they probably derived from Latin and there is a correspontent (talk about purple!) in Italian 😉

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    1. That doesn’t surprise me! Have you ever seen the “History of English in 10 Minutes”? It’s an amusing, very informative little set of videos on YouTube. I wish I knew more European languages… I feel like my vocabulary would expand profoundly! As it stands, I know a lot of Japanese words that don’t translate to English, but… no helping that, haha.

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  15. Ooo, these are fun! I love love love persnickety as a word. I’ve been seeing a lot of “frisson” lately in books I’ve read – I’m sure reviewers would hammer that, but I enjoy having some of these words to spice things up. Akimbo just gives you such a picture of someone’s posture, it would be hard to replace it, really…

    I was also amused to see meretricious and meritorious on this list, since they were the “M” in my Rogue Words from A to Z. 🙂

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    1. I’m pretty sure that’s where I pulled them from!! 😀 And yeah, love those words…. my favorite on this list has to be flibbertigibbet. It’s super fun to say!

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