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Q: heard mentioned during broadcast of tennis match ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: heard mentioned during broadcast of tennis match
Category: Family and Home > Families
Asked by: timbuktu-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 08 Jul 2003 11:57 PDT
Expires: 07 Aug 2003 11:57 PDT
Question ID: 226624
where does the phrase " purple patch " come from and what does it mean ??
Subject: Re: heard mentioned during broadcast of tennis match
Answered By: pinkfreud-ga on 08 Jul 2003 12:52 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
A purple patch is an episode of excellence (sometimes in the midst of
mediocrity). In addition to its usage in sports, the phrase is often
found in reference to portions of literature that are particularly

According to Thrall, Hibbard, and Holman in A Handbook to Literature,
a "purple patch" is "a piece of fine writing . . . which is intensely
colorful . . . rhythmic . . . full of imagery and figures of speech,
characterized by poetic diction."

Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High School English Department

Here's an excerpt from the definition of the word "purple" that I
found in my 1971 edition of the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary:

Purple: Rhetorically, with reference to  the qualities of this colour:
bright-hued, brilliant, splendid... Purple patch, passage, piece: a
brilliant or ornate passage in a literary composition (after Latin
purpureus pannus, Horace, De Arte Poetica).

The best explanation of this phrase that I have found is on a
delightful site called "The Bedtime Browser: or Why Do We Say That?"

Here is Dr. James Briggs' comment on "purple patch":

To have a purple patch means to have an exceptionally good period in,
say, a game. The origin here is a little obscure but could be based on
the fact that Roman noblemen wore purple togas. They were clearly
exceptional people, hence the analogy. Alternatively the emphasis may
be on the patch since purple and other multicoloured areas were
sometimes set into ancient illuminated texts and other ventures in
order to make them look more distinguished than they truly were. In
Horace's De Arte Poetica he says "Often to weighty enterprises and
such as profess great objects, one or two purple patches are sewn on
to make a fine display in the distance".

Dr. James Briggs: The Bedtime Browser

The published use of the phrase "purple patch" ("purpureus pannus" in
Latin) actually predates Horace. The first-century poet and
philosopher Philodemus had earlier used a Greek phrase with a similar

"[Horace's] use of the phrase 'purpureus pannus' comes from
Philodemus' similar phrase, hai porphurai, at Poem. 1 col. 49.26."

Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Search terms used:

"hit a purple patch"
"hits a purple patch"
"hitting a purple patch"
"have a purple patch"
"has a purple patch"
'having a purple patch"
"purple patch means"
"purple patch" + "meaning"
"purple patch" + "origin"
"purpureus pannus"
"hai porphurai"

Thanks for asking a question that was genuinely interesting to
research. If anything is unclear, or if a link does not function,
please request clarification; I'll be glad to offer further assistance
before you rate my answer.

Best wishes,
timbuktu-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
thank you very much

Subject: Re: heard mentioned during broadcast of tennis match
From: trueparent-ga on 09 Jul 2003 21:29 PDT
Sometime in the ancient past, purple dye could only be obtained from a
rare type of shellfish, and hence, was very expensive, and therefore
was affordable only to royalty.

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