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Hazel: (* Goes on a rant, asking Death why the universe isn't fair, while apologizing for being a stupid mortal *)

Death: They aren't stupid questions, but they could just as well be "When is purple?" or "Why does Thursday?", if you see what I mean.

Hazel: Not really.

In some works, the lines separating time and space and color and various other abstract concepts sometimes get blurred. This can be done for many reasons, ranging from Faux Symbolism to actual symbolism and from portraying a character as deep and wise to portraying him as weird or outright psychotic.

See also Ice Cream Koan. Not to be confused with Tastes Like Purple, where it's about the senses getting mixed up rather than metaphors or reality itself twisting beyond comprehension.

Examples of When Is Purple? include:

Comic Books

  • In the Sandman spin-off album "Death: The Time of Your Life", Death uses this in her attempts to explain that certain "deep" questions, such as why the universe isn't fair, rest on an underlying misconception (fair for whom? Fair by what metric?).


  • There's a minor recurring joke in the Discworld books about this. The Disc rests on the back of four elephants, which are standing on the back of a giant sea turtle. This sometimes leads to people wondering, "What does the turtle stand on?", which the narration explains is a question that makes about as much sense as asking what sound the colour yellow makes.
    • It's a turtle. It swims.
    • Also, Death knows the answer to the question of what infinity looks like. Apparently, from the outside, it's blue.
  • One part of The Lorax describes the trouble you'll have hearing the Once-ler's story, including "his teeth sounding gray."


  • In the Blutengel song "Leave the Day", the first line of the lyrics goes, "This is the night, where all your dreams come true." It is surely no mistake that they sing "where" rather than "when". They are talking about "night" as a metaphorical concept rather than the time between evening and morning.
  • Joy Electric: "I want to stay with you forever, / forever is a place", from the song "Forever is a Place".
  • On "What Time is Love?", The KLF wonder exactly that. This gets a Call Back on the last track of The White Room: "They're justified and they're ancient, / and they know what time is love."
  • This trope applies to many of the lyrics written by Jon Anderson of Yes.
  • Near the beginning of the song "The Devil's Dance Floor" by Flogging Molly is the line "The colour of her eyes / Were the colour of insanity."

Tabletop RPG

  • Dungeons and Dragons module WG7 Castle Greyhawk: In one level of the dungeon, the PCs can meet a philosopher who asks questions like, "Why is up?" and "Sideways: fact or fiction?".


 Mustard Seed: Where will you be back?

Polo: Right here. See you in an inch!

  • One Penny Arcade strip presents a conundrum: Gabe cannot remember his password for some thing or other, and he's left himself the nigh-incomprehensible "what is delicious" as a hint. Tycho is stumped; what, in fact, is delicious? The concept of delicious? But Gabe left off the question mark. Perhaps it's a statement. Perhaps what, itself, is delicio-

Web Original

Real Life

  • The Buddha, when asked about whether God existed or not, said that the question was as relevant as asking about the number of stars in the sky, leaves in the forest or grains of sand on a beach.
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