scorecardresearch Skip to main content

May I have a word: Two ways we cling to fantasy

New words for when a dream feels so real that we think it is and for the phenomenon of seeing our friends as ageless.

Looking at the world through rose-colored glasses takes on a variety of meanings.Jacob Lund/Adobe

A challenge held over from late last year is a search for an English equivalent for the Urdu word goya, meaning “a moment when a fantasy seems so real that one perceives it as reality and experiences a total suspension of disbelief.”

Sue Cameron, of South Yarmouth, quipped: “Isn’t that an LSD trip?” Vance Koven, of Dorchester, wrote: “I immediately conjured up a prime example of such a fantasy in current affairs. It’s called modern monetary theory.”

I had hinted that the fantasies referenced might include election denial and such, but most respondents took the high road. Sue Cameron granted that “sometimes dreams are so real that you wake up going forward as if that thing did just happen” and coined dreamspell to suit the purpose. Heather Meeker Green, of Medford, reported: “I’ve certainly had something similar when I’ve woken up from a dream, and it was so realistic I felt it happened and I was unnerved”; the word she came up with was realasy.

Which awakened me to a reason some of my challenges are so, um, challenging — namely, that our language could hardly be less phonetic if it tried. English pronunciation and spelling sometimes bear only the slightest resemblance to each other.


For instance, as the linguist Arika Okrent (who counts Klingon among the many languages she speaks) has pointed out, we pronounce kernel and colonel the same way. So a coinage that when said aloud is clearly a tidy blend of the three-syllable words reality and fantasy, on the page looks, unfortunately, like a muddle of real, alas, and easy.

Other possibilities were proposed, but Sue Cameron’s etymologically unmistakable dreamspell is the coinage I like best, so I’m awarding it bragging rights. Congratulations, Sue!

Now let’s move on to my New Year’s Day seeking terms for “perceiving one’s agemates as ageless.”


To me, this perception is not an illusion but merely a comfort my mind affords me, but some respondents took it to be a goya-like fantasy. Indeed, Samantha Timmerman, of Melrose and Vion, France, proposed the acronym SIFL, for “stuck in fantasyland,” for both meanings.

Jean Whooley, of Dorchester, reported, “I’ve reached a point in life when denysight has replaced eyesight.” And Jay Bangs, of Buffalo, N.Y., who I dearly hope was able to ponder this matter while wrapped snugly in a blanket and dreaming of Hawaii during the recent epic snowstorm, proposed ulukalikeme.

Jack Tuttle, of Hyde Park, was more nearly on my wavelength when he wrote: “The behavior you observed is actually a specific version of the classic ‘looking at the world through rose-colored glasses.’ The phenomenon is called opticalimism.”

Marian Glaser, of Auburndale, gave me kumbayopia, which is so expansive and great that I think it merits being applied to the broader category of “wearing rose-colored glasses.”

And Karen Mandell, of Lynnfield, coined wrinklepoof, which I find adorable. Those of us whose eyesight is heading into denysight may find it all too easy to misread this coinage, but what the heck — I’m awarding it bragging rights anyway. Thank you, Karen!

This time, how about we come up with some new saws? Old saws are, of course, sayings like “A watched pot never boils,” “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good,” and “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”


New saws to update them might be “A watched microwave never beeps,” “It’s an ill wind that delays a westbound plane,” and “You can’t teach an old AI new tricks.”

A man who was a step — or actually a century — ahead of us is Ambrose Bierce, the renowned American journalist, short story writer, and satirist. His 1911 “Devil’s Dictionary” contains a list of “old saws fitted with new teeth,” including “A man is known by the company that he organizes,” “Strike while your employer has a big contract,” “Think twice before you speak to a friend in need,” and “Where there’s a will, there’s a won’t.”

Send your updated — or wholly original — words of wisdom to me by noon on Friday, Jan. 20, at, and kindly include where you live.

Barbara Wallraff is a writer and editor who lives in Cambridge.