What does waxing poetic mean? Is this expression still in common use or has it become more of an archaic saying? We will examine this expression over the course of the following article. We will examine wax poetic’s meaning, some aspects of the etymology of the saying, a wax poetic synonym, how it can be used in both poetic and ordinary language, and how to use the expression. Keep reading if this is something that interests you!
Table of Contents
- 1 What Does Waxing Poetic Mean?
- 2 The Shifting Etymology of Wax Poetic’s Meaning
- 3 Waxing Poetic in Poetry
- 4 Purple Prose and Waxing Poetic
- 5 How to Use the Phrase “Wax Poetic” in Ordinary Speech
- 6 Frequently Asked Questions
What Does Waxing Poetic Mean?
Every now and then a phrase will emerge that can cause some level of confusion, and the expression “waxing poetic” or “to wax poetic” is one such phrase. This expression is one that, because it makes use of the term “poetic”, it could lead one to think that it has something to do with poetry. However, that is not wax poetic’s meaning. Although that being said, even though there is no “wax poetry” or anything like that, there may be something of a connection between waxing poetic and more poetic angles.
The reason is because a “wax poetic” synonym is essentially verbosity. The term itself, “waxing poetic” refers to a more flowery way of speaking. It often refers to the way in which some people will speak in an overly descriptive or highly emotional way. Most of the time, this expression is used in a negative sense. It is used to somewhat insult those who make use of this particular way of speaking.
The violence of Tarquinius (16th Century) by the workshop of Jacopo Tintoretto; Museo del Prado, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The reason for this is because the kind of people who “wax poetic”, or speak in a verbose manner, are doing so by essentially using far more words than is necessary to come to the point that one is trying to make. Have a look at something like this. One could say “I’m going to the shops”, and that would be quite straightforward. However, if one wanted to wax poetic, one could instead elongate that by saying: “I shall soon journey into the distance of the day as the sun sets upon us all, as the winds ravish our skin, as the calls of the birds beside us jeer at us for the crime of our utter lack of wings! I shall sojourn myself to the commercial district to procure what needs to be procured for our nourishment this fine evening.”
This way of speaking is, quite clearly, ridiculous. However, one could also argue that to wax poetic in such a manner could be used as a way of enhancing the general impact of what you have to say. It could be employed as a rhetorical strategy and make creative and interesting use of language. However, most people do not care for anyone who conducts themselves in such a way because it can seem more like politician-speech or just overly verbose and a bit annoying.
For this reason, many people may try to avoid waxing poetic wherever possible.
This simply means trying to avoid more pretentious or hyperbolic ways of phrasing something. To speak in a concise manner is often seen as the best way to respect a listener’s attention, and maintaining a good quantity of words is considered to be one of the conversational maxims of Paul Grice. This figure noted that one of the ways in which we should communicate with one another is by saying as many words as is necessary. Not more words and not less. The correct number of words. And waxing poetic is definitely a means of using more words than you need to use. However, where did this idea come from?
The Shifting Etymology of Wax Poetic’s Meaning
Ideas can easily shift as words change their meaning over time. There are many words that have completely changed their meaning through the centuries, and this is also the case with waxing poetic’s meaning. So, when it comes to this expression, it is best to split it in two and attempt to understand the constituent parts on their own: “waxing” and “poetic”.
The latter of these two, “poetic” is probably the easiest one in ordinary communication. We all generally know what a poem is, and when we describe something as “poetic”, we are inherently stating that it is like a poem. This is why the plays of William Shakespeare may be called poetic as no one has ever actually spoken like that. The characters in his plays use a kind of highly poetic language that has never actually been used by human beings. People do not speak like that. The plays of Shakespeare are essentially narratives told through poetic verse.
So, what about the other part of the expression? The idea of “waxing” comes from the idea of something growing. In the common era, this term is still used for this purpose when we refer to the waning and waxing of the moon or the tides. It is a bit of an archaic expression, but it does still exist in certain circles to this day. This is a very archaic term, and it is only really used in the expression “waxing poetic” in the modern day.
What does waxing poetic mean then? Well, in simple terms, the idea of something “waxing” has been around since at least the 1500s, but it only started to shift into the contemporary form in the 1800s. This is when it started to specifically refer to flowery language. This meaning has persisted, and while the expression is not all that common, it can still be used while generally retaining understanding from those who may not be familiar with the term “wax” outside of the specific context of candles or ears.
It was at about the same time, and especially as we progressed into the modern era, that it gained more of a negative reputation.
We may have seen the language of certain people as “waxing poetic”, but those people have since been labeled as more pretentious types of people. That is how we come to our current understanding of this expression.
Waxing Poetic in Poetry
There is no such thing as “wax poetry”, but as the expression does purposefully call poetry to mind, it may be worth asking why this is the case. There is a lot of poetry that can be termed pretentious and excessively difficult to read and interpret. There has especially been a trend since the Modernist era to create more academic poetry that requires one to analyze it, but this kind of poetry is not all of poetry. Even if schools have convinced many that this is the case.
Actors from the Comédie Française (1720) by Jean-Antoine Watteau; Jean-Antoine Watteau, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
So, one could argue that poetry of this nature is a kind of “wax poetry” in a sense. However, as that is not an actual expression, this is not something definitive but rather a possible way in which this concept could be applied to something that is actually poetic rather than simply emulating poetry. For this reason, one could argue that certain poetry does wax poetic, but, at the same time, it’s poetry, so shouldn’t it be allowed to wax poetic? Isn’t that sometimes the point of poetry?
Purple Prose and Waxing Poetic
While the expression “waxing poetic” may not necessarily refer to an actual literary form and is instead a general way of describing a certain way of speaking or writing, that kind of writing can be found in non-poetic literary forms. For instance, there is a concept known as “purple prose”.
Purple prose is a form of writing found in prose texts, such as novels and short stories, and it refers to a specific style. The style is an overly ornate and stylized form of language that is generally considered to overuse adjectives, adverbs, and so on. Essentially, it is overly flowery language.
It could be demonstrated by detailing something like this: “The cascading of the vaporous whiteness as it fell from on high as if the heavens themselves had opened upon us and were smiling down.
The whiteness merged with the blue down below to form the thunderous beating of the liquid upon the shallows of their rocky floor.” This has been a description of a waterfall. You could also say: “We saw a waterfall”. The former is an example of purple prose.
This kind of writing is often criticized for being overly pretentious and a saturated form of writing in which meaning, and narrative is hidden behind multiple layers of distracting language. It is a style though, and it could be seen as something of an opposite to a more minimalistic style of writing.
How to Use the Phrase “Wax Poetic” in Ordinary Speech
If you too want to make use of this expression, let’s look at how you can do so. The expression is quite simple but has a few different forms that are worth taking into account. In its most basic form, when someone is speaking to you in a very flowery and overly descriptive way, you can say that they are “waxing poetic”. As in: “John was waxing poetic earlier when he told me about that dinner he went to last night”.
Instead of this, you can also use it in the form “wax poetic”. This may be slightly more awkward to use at times, but you can state that someone was going to “wax poetic”. This could be seen in an example such as: “Victor was about to wax poetic, but I decided to fake an emergency and run away as quickly as I could.”
However, it can still be used in this form in one another sense. The “to” can be excluded, such as when saying something like: “Peter could wax poetic about that sport if you let him, but you must never let that happen. Never!” So, as can be seen, there are a number of different ways in which this expression can be used. Although, it is worth noting that all of these examples have been somewhat jokey or mean. The phrase does not need to be used in that sense, but that is the usual way in which it’s used.
You could also use the expression to explain how certain people will speak when they are discussing something that they have a big interest in, but to call that “waxing poetic” would likely come across as unnecessarily mean-spirited. Instead, when someone is simply talking about something that they love, we tend to say that they are “enthusiastic”, but it could be argued that they too are waxing poetic.
And alas we have come upon the dreary conclusion of our examination and elaboration on the question that is upon all our hearts: “What does waxing poetic mean?”. This ever-too-short text has attempted to elucidate what waxing poetic may mean and the way in which that meaning has changed. In addition to this, we have implemented a discourse on where all this might be found, perhaps even in a kind of wax poetry or purple prose. This is where the waxing poetics comes to a conclusion, and we hope from the deepest chasms of our hearts that you have learned a little on the fluctuations and permutations of what it means to wax poetic.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Does Waxing Poetic Mean?
This expression refers to a more eloquent and purposefully poetic way. However, verbosity could be considered to be a wax poetic synonym. This expression has come to have a negative connotation for those who use language in this manner, as it is often associated with people who keep talking for far longer than they should.
Should You Wax Poetic?
It really does depend on why you want to wax poetic. It could be fun or entertaining to speak in an overly verbose and flowery manner, or it could be a means of expressing oneself. It should be noted that occasionally waxing poetic is not the same as always doing it. Many people find it to be irritating and overlong. So, be careful when using language of this nature.
Does Waxing Poetic Exist in Poetry?
There isn’t really such a thing as wax poetry or anything of that nature. Instead, it is an expression that uses the idea of poetry to describe the way that someone speaks. On the flip side, it could therefore be argued that more traditional poetry, from which the expression gained its name, is inherently a kind of waxing poetic medium. This can be disputed though.
Does Waxing Poetic Exist in Other Literary Forms?
The idea of waxing poetic can exist in anything that makes use of language. Language of this overly poetic and descriptive sense is often known as purple prose when used in prose texts, like novels and short stories. To wax poetic can be found anywhere that humans speak, write, and communicate.
What Is the Correct Way to Use the Expression Waxing Poetic?
If you want to use this expression correctly, you simply need to use it in the continuous voice of waxing poetic, as in, a person was waxing poetic. On the other hand, it can be used to describe someone who has decided to wax poetic about a topic. There are a few different ways to use this expression, but so long as it is being used to refer to the way in which someone speaks in a more verbose manner, then it should generally be considered to be correct.
Justin van Huyssteen is a freelance writer, novelist, and academic originally from Cape Town, South Africa. At present, he has a bachelor’s degree in English and literary theory and an honor’s degree in literary theory. He is currently working towards his master’s degree in literary theory with a focus on animal studies, critical theory, and semiotics within literature. As a novelist and freelancer, he often writes under the pen name L.C. Lupus.
Justin’s preferred literary movements include modern and postmodern literature with literary fiction and genre fiction like sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, and horror being of particular interest. His academia extends to his interest in prose and narratology. He enjoys analyzing a variety of mediums through a literary lens, such as graphic novels, film, and video games.
Justin is working for artincontext.org as an author and content writer since 2022. He is responsible for all blog posts about architecture, literature and poetry.
Cite this Article
Justin, van Huyssteen, “What Does Waxing Poetic Mean? – Speaking With Poetic Flourish.” Art in Context. September 8, 2023. URL: https://artincontext.org/what-does-waxing-poetic-mean/
van Huyssteen, J. (2023, 8 September). What Does Waxing Poetic Mean? – Speaking With Poetic Flourish. Art in Context. https://artincontext.org/what-does-waxing-poetic-mean/