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Pipe Dream Meaning

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What is a Pipe Dream and Where Does It Come From?

Have you ever heard someone say that their goal or aspiration is just a pipe dream? Or maybe you have used this expression yourself to describe an idea that seems too good to be true or too far-fetched to be realistic. But what does this phrase actually mean, and where does it come from? In this blog post, we will explore the meaning and origin of the term “pipe dream”, as well as some examples of how to use it in a sentence.

A pipe dream is a fantastic notion or vain hope that is unlikely to ever come true or be fulfilled. It is something that one wishes for or imagines, but knows deep down that it is impossible or impractical. For example, someone might say that winning the lottery or becoming a famous movie star is a pipe dream for them.

The phrase “pipe dream” has been in use for over a century, and its origins can be traced back to the dreams experienced by smokers of opium pipes. Opium is a narcotic drug derived from the poppy plant, which can induce feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and pain relief, but also cause hallucinations, delusions, and addiction. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, opium was widely used for both medicinal and recreational purposes, especially in China and other parts of Asia, but also in Europe and America. Opium was often smoked in pipes, either alone or mixed with tobacco or other substances.

The effects of opium on the mind and body were well-known and documented by writers, artists, and travelers who experimented with the drug or witnessed its use. One of the most famous accounts of opium smoking is the book “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater” by Thomas De Quincey, published in 1821. De Quincey described his addiction to opium and the vivid and bizarre dreams he had under its influence. He wrote:

“The sense of space, and in the end the sense of time, were both powerfully affected. Buildings, landscapes, &c., were exhibited in proportions so vast as the bodily eye is not fitted to receive. Space swelled, and was amplified to an extent of unutterable infinity.”

De Quincey’s book was influential and popular, and inspired other writers to explore the theme of opium and its effects on the imagination. One of them was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who wrote the famous poem “Kubla Khan” after waking up from an opium-induced dream. He claimed that he had a vision of a magnificent palace and gardens in Xanadu, the ancient capital of Mongolia, but forgot most of it when he was interrupted by a visitor. He wrote:

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.”

These examples show how opium smoking could produce fantastical visions that were detached from reality and logic. These visions were often referred to as “pipe dreams”, implying that they were induced by the pipe used to smoke opium. The term “pipe dream” soon became a metaphor for any idea or plan that was unrealistic or impractical, regardless of whether it involved opium or not.

The first recorded use of “pipe dream” in this sense was in 1890, in an article in the Chicago Daily Tribune about a proposed tunnel under Lake Michigan:

“It seems to me that this scheme to build a tunnel under Lake Michigan is a pipe-dream.”

Since then, the phrase has become widely used in everyday speech and writing, especially to express skepticism or criticism about someone’s hopes or ambitions. Here are some examples of how to use “pipe dream” in a sentence:

  • She wanted to travel around the world in a year, but that was just a pipe dream.
  • He thought he could get away with cheating on his exams, but that turned out to be a pipe dream.
  • They had a pipe dream of opening their own restaurant someday, but they never had enough money or time.
  • Some people think that world peace is a pipe dream, but others still work hard to achieve it.

As you can see, “pipe dream” is a common and useful expression to describe an idea or plan that is impossible or very unlikely to happen. It can also be used as an adjective (e.g., “a pipe-dream project”) or as a verb (e.g., “to pipe-dream about something”). However, you should be careful not to use it in a rude or offensive way, as it might hurt someone’s feelings or discourage them from pursuing their goals. Remember that one person’s pipe dream might be another person’s reality, and that sometimes dreams do come true, even if they seem improbable or unrealistic.

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