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Word for Wednesday: Nightmare 


It doesn’t seem like such a stretch to assume the word nightmare is related to the English word mare which means 'female horse'. With ghost stories like that of the headless horseman, it doesn’t seem implausible that among the many weird connections and quirks in the English language there might be one about horses and sleeping. 

The mare in nightmare actually comes from the Proto-Germanic ‘maron’ meaning ‘goblin’. In German folklore a mare was an evil female spirit or goblin-like creature who suffocated men in their sleep.  Another archaic word for nightmare is incubus which is also the name of a mythological male demon who was believed to rape women while they were sleeping. 

Nightmare, in reference to the goblin, has been used in English since around 1300. From the mid-sixteenth century its meaning changed to refer specifically to the feeling of suffocation experienced by the sleeper. The first recorded use of nightmare in reference to ‘any bad dream’ was in 1829 and the word took on its metaphoric meaning of ‘any distressing experience’ from 1831. 

 

 

Sources: The Online Etymology Dictionary


14 Aug 2019
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