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).