Due For A Purple Patch

What are some English idioms that reflect the hope that things just have to get better… at some point.



Due for a purple patch
A purple patch is a sustained period of good luck and serious success.

The expression stems back to Imperial Rome, where only emperors and a few lucky statesmen could wear the colour purple. The toga picta, for instance, was a fancifully embroidered, all-purple outfit worn by the emperor at military triumphs.

Luminous purple dye was impossibly expensive given that it was created from the slimy secretions of marine snails. Caligula was said to have been so enraged by the bright purple robe of Client King Ptolemy of Mauretania that he ordered Ptolemy killed.

So – Roman murders aside – ‘a purple patch’ is a dash of the type of good fortune that is normally preserved for royals.


Every cloud has a silver lining
As bad as things seem, something good is coming.

This phrase seems to have been plucked from John Milton’s 1634 poem Comus, which includes the excerpt:

‘Was I deceiv’d, or did a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night?
I did not err, there does a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night’


It’s always darkest before the dawn
The terrible things that are happening now mean that good things are bound to follow.

Most attribute this saying to Thomas Fuller – a 17th Century English theologian who wrote: ‘Thus, as it is always darkest just before the day dawneth, so God useth to visit His servants with greatest afflictions when he intendeth their speedy advancement.’

If a tune leapt into your head at the mention of the dark and the dawn, it is likely Florence and the Machine’s 2011 Shake it Out: ‘Cause I like to keep my issues drawn, But it’s always darkest before the dawn.’



Take the bitter with the sweet
If we want to enjoy the good things in life, we must endure the bad.

You’ll see the bitter-sweet link in Troilus and Criseyde, written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 1380s.

“ffor how myghte euere swetnesse han ben knowe To him that neuere tasted bitternesse?
Ne no man may ben inly glad, I trowe,
That neuere was in sorwe or som destresse;


Turn the corner
There’s relief coming; looks like we may be through the worst of it.

This nautically-inspired idiom is rooted in two particularly dangerous spots for sailors. First is The Cape of Good Hope, where Indian and Atlantic oceans crash together. Second is Cape Horn – with driving westerly winds and a rising ocean floor, this southern tip of Tierra del Fuego peninsula in Chile has downed many a ship.

If captains were lucky to make it through – to ‘turn the corner’ from these treacherous Capes – they had much to celebrate.


Turn the tables
A shift in fortune. Those who were on the losing end are suddenly winning.

This is an idiom that comes from backgammon, known in 17th Century Britain as ‘tables.’ Rules allowed for a time when the table would literally be turned and opponents would have to take on each other’s positions.



Header Photo: William Bout



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Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton