In a class last week, the phrase "purple prose" arose, like a great, winged bird of description, overshadowing the smattering of plot-towns and roads of plot-threads. then someone asked where it came from.
As a person who loves to find new words (I am running into others' use of niggling again, still a great word, regardless of where it originated), I figured I'd look up the origins.
Purple prose is defined as, basically, overly flowerly langauge, description that goes way beyond what's necessary and "draws attention to itself."
It originates from a passage from Horace, the Roman poet in his Ars Poetica (lines 14-21):
Inceptis grauibus plerumque et magna professispurpureus, late qui splendeat, unus et alteradsuitur pannus, cum lucus et ara Dianaeet properantis aquae per amoenos ambitus agrosaut flumen Rhenum aut pluuius describitur arcus;sed nunc non erat his locus. Et fortasse cupressumscis simulare; quid hoc, si fractis enatat exspesnauibus, aere dato qui pingitur?
(Your opening shows great promise, and yet flashy purple patches; as when describing a sacred grove, or the altar of Diana, or a stream meandering through fields, or the river Rhine, or a rainbow; but this was not the place for them. If you can realistically render a cypress tree, would you include one when commissioned to paint a sailor in the midst of a shipwreck?)
Purple was a rare dye to find, so it was only used by the wealthy. Apparently, some people in the time of the Roman Republic who wanted to be viewed as wealthier than they actually were, so they put patches of purple cloth on their clothes to play into that purple=rich. (Most people know that connection between purple and royalty.)
Information from Answers.com.