Should you describe a beautiful landscape as 'soporific'?
June 13, 2016 7:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm reading a book right now where a British author uses the term 'soporific' a lot, particularly to describe landscapes that are beautiful and inspiring (he describes them this way as well). Is that right?

As far as I know, 'soporific' means sleep-inducing or dull so I'm curious why this term is used so much to describe beautiful landscapes. Again, the author is from the U.K. Is that term used differently there?
posted by bluelight to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This strikes me as a bit unusual but certainly within the bounds of the word. Something soporific can be calming without putting you all the way to sleep. "Her calm, steady voice had a soporific effect on the agitated man"
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:13 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

To me, describing a landscape as 'soporific' sounds more like using it as a synonym for being dull or boring, rather than attractive. Perhaps the author meant it's beautiful but in a clichéd done-to-death sort of way, rather than a beautiful AND original design?
posted by easily confused at 8:39 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I can see how a lovely landscape could make you feel happy or relaxed, but not sleepy. It almost makes me think that the writer doesn't know what "soporific" means.
posted by w0mbat at 8:53 PM on June 13, 2016 [8 favorites]

The only soporific landscape I can picture is the field of poppies that put Dorothy to sleep. And that only became soporific when she entered it. At a distance it was beautiful.
posted by kitten magic at 9:06 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

This isn't correct usage in any context I'm familiar with. I'm guessing the author used a thesaurus to find a synonym for "peaceful", maybe?
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:30 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

for british usage you can check the oxford dictionaries. however, their definition for soporific has nothing surprising - it's basically sleep-inducing. so yeah, seems odd.
posted by andrewcooke at 9:32 PM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

It is horrible word choice. It only makes sense if the character or author is normally extremely tense or violent.
posted by yesster at 9:49 PM on June 13, 2016

Thanks for the input all. The landscape he's describing is definitely not clichéd. I suppose he is going for 'calming or 'peaceful.' He also used that word to describe some very interesting rocks (that he recommended going to check out, so definitely not sleep-inducing).
posted by bluelight at 10:20 PM on June 13, 2016

He also used that word to describe some very interesting rocks

He is a writer with a poor thesaurus or a poor vocabulary.

I am the fortunate and grateful owner of a 1920s Roget's. It is not even an archaic use. The entries were too long to type out in full, but, rocks are not sleepy (one entry) or weary (2nd entry).
posted by kmennie at 12:00 AM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just wondering - is it Roger Scruton? link

'Soporific' means sleep- or drowsiness- inducing, in the UK as elsewhere. If the author is Scruton, he is a good writer but may be using the word in an unusual way to be deliberately contrarian.
posted by plep at 12:05 AM on June 14, 2016

As a reader of a plethora of novels set in the boonies of England or the US, I have often seen an area described as a "sleepy countryside."
posted by xyzzy at 12:24 AM on June 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

UK person here who has read a lot of British novels, and to me this use of soporific doesn't mean sleep-inducing as in dull, it means that it lulls you, much like heroin would. It is a pleasurable, irresistible calming or lulling, not one of boredom. But him using it for interesting rocks does suggest in this author's case he is just unsure of what he means.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 2:45 AM on June 14, 2016 [14 favorites]

I suspect most British people of a certain age were introduced to the word 'soporific' by The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, in which Beatrix Potter explains that this is the effect of eating too many lettuce leaves.

The English countryside is often beautiful but rarely sublime, so there are certainly associations with calm and restfulness. However, as xyzzy hints, the author may be treating 'soporific' as an latinate (and thus elevated) synonym of 'sleepy' and instead of sounding erudite, comes across as inaccurate and pretentious.
posted by holgate at 7:21 AM on June 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Soporific means sleep-inducing. Unless the writer is trying to say that, it is wrong. It is possible to imagine instances where that would be the specific message. Tired, aboard a train watching the boring countryside. Still, any good writer changes words around and does not repeat words that draw attention to themselves.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:17 AM on June 14, 2016

Maybe they were thinking of 'idyllic' or 'pastoral'?
posted by porpoise at 2:03 PM on June 14, 2016

Or bucolic, even.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:47 PM on June 14, 2016

Were I his editor, I would advise him to choose another adjective, unless he was going for an ironic/bitter tone, but even then, I would tell him to use it no more than once in the book, because it's an unusual word and people (like you!) will remember it. And that pulls them out of the story.
posted by emjaybee at 7:44 AM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

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