LINGUIST List 7.1491

Wed Oct 23 1996

Sum: Dreams vs. nightmares

Editor for this issue: Susan Robinson <>


  1. Rene Schneider, Summary: dreams vs. nightmares

Message 1: Summary: dreams vs. nightmares

Date: Wed, 23 Oct 1996 11:57:54 +0200
From: Rene Schneider <rene.schneiderdbag.ulm.DaimlerBenz.COM>
Subject: Summary: dreams vs. nightmares
Finally, the summary for my query concerning dreams and nightmares. 
I really received more information than I expected and it seems 
worth to me spending more time with it.
If you'll ever find a paper with the title "Where do our nightmares 
come from?", you'll know where the paper comes from.
Thanks a lot, especially to

Marion Kee <>
Homme A. Piest <>
Jonathan Glassow <>
Karen S. Chung <>
Deborah D K Ruuskanen <>
Edmund Rooney <>
Pentti Toivakka <>
Szigetvari Peter <>
Philippe Mennecier <>
Marina Mc Dougall <>
Dag Gundersen <>
Ricardo Joseh Lima <>
Alice Oh <aliceMIT.EDU>
Elena Bertoncini <>
Ron Artstein <>
Susana Eisenchlas <>
Ragnhild Tonnessen <>
Linda Coleman <>
Ansgar Eilebrecht <>

Of course, there is not a universal word for this universal 
experience, but there seems to be a common semantic concept for the 
phenomenon of a nightmare that is to be found in several different 
cultures: an evil spirit, a demon, at least something that oppresses 
people during sleep, e.g.:

- Estonian:_luupainaja_, <something that lies heavy on the bone>
- Inuit: _orumanger_ <to have a nightmare> < *uqimangiR- (same 
sense) cf. *uqimangit- <to be heavy>
- Portuguese: _pesadelo_ from _pesado_ <heavy>
- Sami: _deddon_ <a dream that is pressing you (down)>
- Swahili: _jinamizi_ <to bend towards/on>
- Arabic: _kabus_ from _KaBaSa_ <to exert pressure, press, squeeze> 

Names for the evil spirits bringing the bad dreams are: mare 
(English), march (Welsh), mar (French), Alb (German), incubo 
(Italian), mare (Scandinavian languages), mora/mura (Slavic 
East asian languages (Mandarin, Japanese, Korean) use the words for 
<bad dream> but sometimes the character for <demon>.
In case of Hungarian you have the negation of a good dream but also 
the word _nyomocz _ = lit. <a person or thing that exerts pressure> 

Thanks again from
Rene' Schneider
Department of Text Understanding Systems
Daimler-Benz Research and Technology, Ulm

Underneath you will find some more detailed information for the 
following languages:
English, Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, 
French, Hebrew, Hungarian, Inuit, Italian, Japanese, Korean, 
Portuguese, Sami, Scandinavian Languages (Danish, Norwegian, 
Swedish), Slavic Languages (Bulgarian, Czech, Polish, Russian, 
Serbian), Swahili and finally German.

[from OldEnglish _dream_ = <noise, joy> and OldNorse _draumr_; akin 
to OldHighGerman _troum_] used as verb and noun, as well used for 
daydreaming, fantasies
[MiddleEnglish night+mare
_mare_ = from OldHighGerman _mara_, meaning <incubus, i.e. an evil 
preternatural being that lies on persons in their sleep> or
_mare_ = from OldHighGerman _merha_, Welsh _march_, <a female 
horse or other equin animal, esp. when fully mature or of breeding 
age>] (Digital Webster)
related to OldIrish Mor/rigain, the queen of elves,

-(a) the more or less mainstream meaning of <unpleasant dream> and
 (b) the more specific and, in English, folkloric use of the term 
to refer to a set of sensations that includes a feeling of paralysis 
along with a sense of <having a heavy weight on one's chest causing 
an inability to breathe>. That is, I believe, the origin of both 
the English _nightmare_ and the French _cauchemar_, as the feeling 
of suffocating weight on the chest was attributed
to a goblin. (Linda Coleman)

- Several people pointed out that for English speakers generally 
the term _bad dream_ is entirely equivalent to _nightmare_ and even 
more common. (Marion Kee, E. Rooney)

dream | _XuLM_ from _XaLaMa_ <to dream, to muse, reflect, meditate, 
also to attain puberty>, plural: _aXLaM_ <dreams, irreality, 
nightmare | _JuTHMAM_ <incubus>, from _JaTHaMa_ <to alight, sit, 
perch(bird), lie face down, to beset, opress> or
_KABUS_ <terrible vision, phantom, bugbear> from _KaBaSa_ <to exert 
pressure, press, squeeze> (Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Arabic)

dream | _meng4_ or
	_zuo4 meng4_ = <to make a dream>, like _you must be 
dreaming_ or _you must be out of your mind_ (Karen S. Chung)
nightmare | _e-meng_

- The _e-_ prefix means _evil_ <evil dream> (Jonathan Glassow) - There
is also a rather literary term used, for example, in news writing:
_meng4 yan4_ (Taiwan) or _meng4 yan3_ (mainland China), literally,
'dream + nightmare'; this is a rather technical, even medical
term. The written character for _yan4_/_yan3_ contains a component
meaning 'demon'. (Karen S. Chung)

dream | _droom_
nightmare | _nachtmerrie_

- If I remember well, a 'mare' is some sort of impish creature 
trying to suffocate sleepers by sitting on their chests. The word 
itself is no longer in use, the derivation 'merrie' probably was 
taken into use because of sound
resemblances ('merrie' - female horse). (Homme A. Piest)

dream | _uni_,
nightmare | _luupainaja_, <something that lies heavy on the bone> 
(cf. Finnish) (Pentti Toivakka)

dream | _uni_, meaning also <sleep>
nightmare | _pahauni_ = <a bad dream> or
 _painajainen_ = <something that lies heavy on smb./smth>
	 _painajaisuni_ = <nightmaredream>

- The Sandman is the _Unijukka_, i.e. Sleep Jack in some dialects.
and the dormouse is _unikeko_ which also means Sleepyhead! (there is
another word for sleep, _nukkua_, but it is connected with observing
someone else, while _uni_ is more personal) (Deborah D.K. Ruuskanen)
- From the word _uni_ comes the verb <Finnish:unohtaa, Estonian
unustada>; both mean <to forget>; the orginal meaning of the verb
could be: <to get in the memory not clear, obscure, like a dream>
Neither in Finnish and Estonian nor in the Slavic languages the words
which express these two concepts seem to have any etymological link to
each other. (Pentti Toivakka) - The verb is _painaa_. And the
dictionary says it means <trykke, presse, tynge> in norwegina -
exactly as the sami word _deaddit_. (cf. Sami) (Ragnhild Toennessen
and Leena Niiranen)

dream | r^eve
nightmare | cauchmar, from latin _calcare_ <to tread upon> + mar(e) 

dream | _xalom_ (an old word with cognates in other Semitic 
languages (cf. _xulm_ in Arabic);
nightmare | _xalom balahot_ or _siut_

As far as my knowledge goes _balahot_ appears in this construction 
only; nor do I know of any other words derived from the same root, 
though there are bound to be some.
I think it's probable that the construction _xalom balahot_ is a loan
translation from some other language. (Ron Artstein)	
You also have a verb 'to dream' (lachlom), but not a verb for 
having a nightmare, in which case you use the same expression as in 
English: 'haia li siut' (I had a nightmare). (Susana Eisenchlas)

dream | _\'alom_
nightmare | _r\'em\'alom, where r\'em_ means `monster' also cf. 
r\'em\'it `terrify', r\'em\_ul `be terrified'.

- \'V=acute accent on V, \_u=umlaut on V (Peter Szigetvari)
- Like in English, you would rather ask _rosszat almodtal?_ 
(accents on the last 2 _a_s) literally meaning <did you have a bad 
dream?> (Marina McDougall)
Marina also sent me some equivalents like
_Liderc_ (accents on the i & e) = <nightmare, incubus, goblin>
_nyomocz _(accent on the second o) = lit. <a person or thing that 
exerts pressure>

INUIT (East Greenland)
dream | _sinnattir_ <to dream> < *cink- _to sleep_ + ? suffix of 
repeated action;
nightmare | _orumanger_ <to have a nightmare> < *uqimangiR- (same 
sense) cf. *uqimangit- <to be heavy> (Philippe Menecier)

dream | _sogno_ from latin (somnium)
nightmare | _incubo_, from late Latin <daemon lying on> (incubare - 
to lie over) (Elena Bertoncini)

dream | _yume_
nightmare | _akumu_ or _onyomi_

Japanese uses the same Chinese character for _meng4_ to write their
word for 'dream'; it is pronounced _yume_ and is a native Japanese
word (_kunyomi_). They also use the same characters as Mandarin for
_e4 meng4_ to mean 'nightmare'; the pronunciation is _akumu_ (Chinese
loan pronunciation, or _onyomi_). Then there is _muma_, also a Chinese
loan (_onyomi_), like _akumu_, except that Chinese does not now use
this expression. The characters are 'dream' (_meng4_ in Mandarin) +
'demon' (_mo2_ in Mandarin). And finally, the Mandarin _yan4_/_yan3_
character is also used in Japanese; it is pronounced _en_ or _yo_, and
is part of the verb _una(sareru)_, 'to have a nightmare'. (Karen
S. Chung) The same character for dream (chinese origin) is also used
in Korean. (Alice Oh)

dream | _koom_
nightmare | __ak_mong_

The character for _dream_ is read as _mong_ but means _koom_.
However, you would never refer to dream as _mong_ by itself. The
first syllable of _nightmare_, _ak_, means bad, or evil. There is
another word (two words, actually), for nightmare, and it is
_moo-suh-oon koom_, meaning, literally, scary dream. The first word
that I told you, _ak-mong_ is not used very often by children because
words made up of Chinese characters are more advanced and difficult
than the usual Korean words. (Alice Oh)

dream | _sonho_ from latin <somnium, somnio (accusative) >, sleep
nightmare | _pesadelo_ (like Spanish pesadilla) with no worth 
explanation for
'pesadelo' except that it comes from 'pesado' (heavy) what would 
make 'heavy
dreams'. (Ricardo Lima)

SAMI (Lapland)
dream | _niehkku_, also used for a kind of dream you can have 
while awake
nightmare | is a _deddon_, but a deddon is not neccesarily a 
nightmare, <a dream that is pressing you (down)>
Solveig Haetta said that it was made from the verb deaddit.
The dictionary says: deaddit: <a trykke , presse> (to
press), <tynge> (to weigh down). It can also mean to press
something against something (and as far as I understood her, the 
word the Sami use for <underlining> is also related to the same 
verb. (Ragnhild Toennessen and Solveig Haetta)

dream | _draum/drom_
nightmare | _mareridt_ DANISH
 _mareritt_ NORWEGIAN
	 _mardr=F6m_ SWEDISH

- In all the three languages the notion is, that the _mare_ sat on 
people's chests and rode them (_ritt_ = <the act of riding>). To 
avoid it you should place your shoes with the toes pointing away 
from your bed, not towards it. Just as you have _nightmarish_ in 
English we have similar derivations, e.g.
_marerittaktig_ in Norwegian (in Danish -agtig). (Dag Gundersen)
- To give you a nightmare, the mara rides on your chest, so our word is
quite strict to the original idea. (Ragnhild Toenessen)

dream | _son/sen_, <dream and sleep>
nightmare |
RUSSIAN | _koshmar_ from French _cauchemar_, also _kikimora_
POLISH | _koszmar_ or _zmora_
BULGARIAN | _mora_
SERBIAN | _mora_
CZECH | _mura_

- All trace back to Common Slavic <mora>; in Ukrainian <mora> is 
<evil spirit; devil>, in Serbian also <household gnome>; Czech 
<mura> means also <night butterfly>. (Pentti Toivakka)

dream | _ndoto_ 'ndoto' 9 class noun from the verb -ota <to dream>
nightmare | <jinamizi> 5 cl. noun from the verb -inamia <to bend 
towards/on> (Elena Bertoncini)

dream | _Traum_ from OldGerman _troum_, <fallacious, elusorily> 
related to OldIcelandic _draugr_ <ghost>, related to OldIndian 
_druhyati_ <to do harm>
nightmare | _Alptraum/Albtraum_ = _alp_ + _traum_, _alp_ <small, 
often mischievous fairy, that weighs heavily upon the sleeper>, 
mythical being between men, gods and dwarfs, related to OldNordic 
_alfr_, OldEnglish _aelf_ NewEnglish _elf_
testimonies in OldHighGerman speak of an insidious being, as a 
nightmare, that exerts pressure on the sleepers chest and takes 
their breath away --> _Alpdrucken_ (1700) _Alpdruck_ (1800) Alptraum 
_(1900)_(Ansgar Eilebrecht)

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