Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Divinipotent About Dreams

I dream, therefore I exist.
~ August Strindberg (1849–1912)

English is a bountiful language. With its constant infusion of neologisms and its habit of absorbing fetching terms from every other language it encounters, modern English now includes anywhere from 650,000 to 1,000,000 words; experts believe English has more words than any other language.

Given the lushness of the English language, how did it come to pass that one word, dream, encompasses both our greatest unrealized aspirations and what Carl Jung defines as the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens to that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach"?

“For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”
~ Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)

Both meanings of dream share Middle English roots in the Dutch word droom and the German traum, but that does not explain the dual meaning. The Online Etymological Dictionary states confidently that dream in the sense of 'ideal or aspiration' is from 1931, when author J.T. Adams coined the phrase American dream. That assertion is, to put it kindly, unlikely. To put it less kindly, it is ridiculous.

Consider the phrase Hope is a waking dream. Aristotle first said it way back in the fourth century B.C., and English-speaking scholars have known of it for centuries. A pleasant browse through Bartlett's Familiar Quotations makes it clear that great thinkers and writers have been using dream" in both senses, in many languages, just as long.

Perhaps nightime dreams about future glories were once commonplace. (After all, Divinipotent Daily's friend Mary once dreamed she'd won the Olympics.) If any readers can shed light on how or why so much meaning came to be crammed into one, short word, please step up. Meanwhile, let's give some famous dreamers a chance to have their say.

Those who have compared our life to a dream were right...We sleeping wake, we waking sleep.
~ Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592)

I am accustomed to sleep and in my dreams to imagine the same things that lunatics imagine when awake.
~ Rene Descartes (1596–1650)

All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.
~ Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849)

“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
~ Oscar Wilde (1854–1900)

Nothing happens unless first a dream.
~ Carl Sandburg (1878–1967)

“While we are asleep in this world, we are awake in another one.”
~ Salvador Dali (1904–1989)

Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together. ”
~ Eugene Ionesco (1909–1994)

“You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.
~ John Lennon (1940–1980)


  1. Traum means dream in German but wound in Greek. I wonder what Jung would say about that. (But I don't think that Freud and Adler would consider it a coincidence.)


  2. I'm sure you're right, Eugene. Traum's two meanings could have kept Freud and Adler busy for quite some time.