Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes


Image result for plethora medicine
a plethora of fluid in the ear

Good students of writing and literature are often taught not to write "a lot of . . . ," even though the phrase is common in everyday speech.

Trying to write "a lot of" in a more sophisticated way, students frequently resort to "a plethora of . . . ."

Why is this a problem? Because knowing what a metaphor means can ruin its usefulness. (A lot, a bunch, gobs, oodles, scads, are all metaphors indicating abundance. See thesaurus.)

If people know what a plethora is, they might not use the term.

Definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary, the go-to source for understanding how words' meanings change over time.



1. Medical. Originally: overabundance of one or more humours [or fluids], esp. blood; an instance of this. In later use: excessive volume of blood (hypervolaemia or, now rarely, polycythaemia) or excessive fullness of blood vessels (now esp. as seen on X-rays)

2. figurative. An unhealthy or damaging plenitude or excess of something; a state of surfeit or glut. Obs.

3. Usu. with of. Originally in pejorative sense: an excessive supply, an overabundance; an undesirably large quantity. Subsequently, and more usually, in neutral or favourable sense: a very large amount, quantity, or variety.

1835 F. MARRYAT Olla Podrida xvii, We are..suffering under a plethora of capital. 1868 F. W. FARRAR Seekers after God I. ii. 27 A plethora of words. 1882 Ballou's Monthly Mag. Aug. 177/1 There is a perfect plethora of white and twine-colored thick muslin, covered with this guipure. 1907 Daily Chron. 12 Oct. 9/4 As an outcome of the plethora of cheap tyres attention has been re-directed towards puncture-preventing devices. 1911 Encycl. Brit. (ed. 11) XXVIII. 891/2 The decade between 1870 and 1880 may be termed the first Golden Age of yachting... Of races there was a plethora; indeed no fewer than 400 matches took place in 1876. . . . 1956 E. J. HOWARD Long View III. v. 123 An attractive woman will automatically collect a plethora of men. 1969 A. MACLEAN Puppet on Chain ii. 26 From this sophisticated plethora extracted a humble but essential screwdriver. 1985 M. W. BONANNO Dwellers in Crucible xv.296 She was a flower among flowers, a unique and exotic bloom in the midst of this plethora of blossoms. 2003 KoreAm May 55/1 A flavorful medley of vegetables, the heart of this meal is the plethora of tender, savory beef.


etymology or sources of word

 [< post-classical Latin plethora fullness of habit, plethora (4th cent.) and its etymon ancient Greek {pi}{lambda}{eta}{theta}{gwacu}{rho}{alpha} (Ionic {pi}{lambda}{eta}{theta}{gwacu}{rho}{eta}) fullness, satiety, in Hellenistic Greek also repletion of blood or humours, fullness of habit (Galen) < {pi}{lambda}{ghacu}{theta}{epsilon}{iota}{nu} to be full < the base of {pi}{iota}{mu}{pi}{lambda}{gaacu}{nu}{alpha}{iota} to fill (see PLEIO- comb. form), originally via Middle French pléthore (1537 in sense 1; French pléthore; the fig. use in sense 2 is not paralleled in French until considerably later (1791)). Compare Portuguese pletora (1601 as {dag} plethora), Italian pletora (1583), both earliest in medical use. Compare also earlier PLETHORY n.

If you understand the concept of an extended metaphor, "a lot of [something]" will sound bad if you associate it with a bad medical condition.

On the other hand, almost nobody knows this except for linguists or literary scholars, so use depends on whether you want to know the difference or care.


Image result for plethora medicine

pulmonary plethora, or profusion of blood in the lungs

lot (Oxford English Dictionary)8. gen. A part or portion of something; a number of things or people forming part of a larger whole. 

IV. A group, a set; a number, quantity, or amount.15. A number of things or animals of the same kind, or associated in some way; a quantity or amount of something; a set, a group; spec. a batch or consignment of goods, livestock, etc. 

(e.g. "Big Lots")



Big Lots logo.jpeg



Emerson, The Poet (): Language is fossil poetry. As the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images, or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin.” [i.e. metaphor]