Another game, another goal for Gareth Bale. The Welshman’s early strike set Tottenham on course for their 3-0 Europa League win over Inter Milan.
That’s 11 goals in nine games for the talismanic 23-year-old. A superb spell of form that has seen him likened to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the two most celebrated players in world football.
ITV commentator Clive Tyldesly described it as a ‘purple patch‘ – a phrase that has been echoed by just about every media outlet under the sun (including The Sun).
But what exactly does it mean? Since when does purple signify a period of good fortune and achievement?
As colours go, I’m actually quite fond of it. I’m even wearing a purple scarf right now. It’s a bright, confident shade that also carries a calming, self-assured nonchalance. It’s not as in-your-face as red, but it could definitely take blue in a fight.
Purple derives from the Latin purpureus, meaning ‘lustrous’ or ‘dazzling’ – both of which accurately describe Bale.
The Roman poet Horace (65-8 BC) is credited with first coining the phrase some two millennia ago. A translation from his De Arte Poetica, reads:
“Your opening shows great promise, and yet flashy purple patches… but this was not the place for them.”
He seems to condemn flamboyance, metaphorically likening it to the ‘flashy’ qualities of purple.
In ancient times, purple dye could only be sourced from a rare type of shellfish, making it scarce to come by and very expensive. As such, emperors and noblemen were the only types to be attired in purple togas.
Thus, it has historically been a colour associated with superiority and power – characteristics exemplified by Bale en route to becoming February’s Premier League ‘Player of the Month’.
Centuries on from Horace, and literary critics were still denouncing lively prose. The 1704 publication The True Tom Double, suggested:
“[O]ne Part of the Work should not so far out-shine, as to Obscure and Darken the Other. The Purple Patches he claps upon his Course Style, make it seem much Courser than it is.”
Back then, it was considered fashionable for writers to maintain a steady, conservative pace throughout their work. Bursts of creativity would certainly stand out, but they were frowned upon.
Thankfully, today’s society isn’t quite so stiff and artistic flair is allowed to flourish. As such, a ‘purple patch’ has evolved to denote an outstanding period of excellence.
With its ‘dazzling’ traits, ‘superior’ traditions and ‘flashy’ connotations, ‘purple patch’ is the ideal phrase for Bale’s world-class phase.