Word for Wednesday: Dream

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For a moment, let’s venture into the mysterious and umbral realms of slumber.

Daydreams, nightmares, fantasies, imagination…

What do these words mean to you? To me they conjure a very distinct mood or state of mind: clouded, shadowy and often obscure… yet seemingly… real.

The word dream encompasses a diverse set of definitions. While a dream could merely refer to a hope, desire or wish for the future – we also attribute the word to the boundless unpredictability of our mind during sleep.

Over the centuries, the word dream has become more and more inclined towards the non-existent, the fantastical and spiritual. Many people attempt to interpret and even alter dreams, and the phenomenon of lucid dreaming (the state of being aware during a dream) is being explored more than ever.

Historically, ‘dream’ has seen many different meanings. From deception and delusion to, ghosts and phantasms. The Online Etymology Dictionary even suggests a tie to the Sanskrit ‘druh’ which means ‘seek to harm/injure’! Spooky stuff.

That being said isn’t it interesting how the word nightmare always brings to mind a much more specific set of ideas, images and feelings?

The word nightmare literally refers to the Middle English idea that a wicked female demon would visit you during the night to oppress your sleep. The suffix ‘mare’ meant ‘goblin’ – sleep well tonight!

What is the opposite of nightmare? Since the word dream is such a broad term embracing the pleasant, extraordinary and downright weird, do we have a word for a purely ‘good dream’? Writers, maybe there’s space for a new word here!

The subject of dreaming has always been influential in the arts: think Debussy’s beautiful, lilting ‘Reverie’, or the masterful but often disturbing paintings of Odilon Redon. However, this being a language blog I thought I’d leave you with two lines from Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’:

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and

our little life is rounded with a sleep."

Can you think of an antonym for Nightmare other than Daydream?

Hugh MacDermott

26 Sep 2013
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