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Word of the Week: Luftschloss

Do you spend a lot of time dreaming up a life that you wish you lived? Do you create grandiose scenarios in your mind, or visualize that impossibly expensive 20-bedroom mansion? In German, there’s a special word to describe that “castle in the sky”: Luftschloss.

The word Luft means “air” (or in this context, “sky”), and Schloss means “castle”. The word Luftschloss therefore describes an unrealistic plan or dream that a person longs for, even though it is usually unattainable. The literal translation – “castle in the sky” – is a metaphor for those dreams: they exist only in one’s mind.

It is believed that the term originated in the 15th or 16th century when people noticed friends and relatives daydreaming in the attic and accused them of “building a castle in the sky.” Often times, it takes another person to recognize a Luftschloss: the dreamer may never realize that their aspirations are unrealistic. Perhaps you know a dreadful singer who wishes to be the next Michael Jackson, or someone who counts too much on winning the lottery.

The term Luftschloss usually has a more negative connotation, simply because it creates the assumption that someone’s dream is unattainable. Reaching for the stars and dreaming about bigger things is usually a positive and healthy attitude to have. So if you use the word Luftschloss, make sure you use it only in cases where the dreamer is fantasizing about something that’s truly impossible in this reality. After all, what you think is someone’s Luftschloss may actually come to fruition one day.

So keep dreaming (and let others dream) – perhaps your Luftschloss is not as unrealistic as you thought!

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

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