Fun Etymology Tuesday – Nightmare

Hey, so remember last Tuesday when we said that we’re gonna talk about something that, if you’re unlucky, comes to you at night today?

Well, so we are: today’s word is… nightmare!

A compounded word from Old English ‘niht’, meaning as we learned last week “night”, and mære, meaning “incubus”. It is cognate with Middle Dutch nachtmare, German Nachtmahr.

In fact, from the late 13th century to the mid 16th, the word nightmare did refer to an incubus, or an evil female spirit who afflicts sleepers with a feeling of suffocation. Around mid-16th century, the meaning shifted from incubus to the suffocating feeling that it causes but the meaning of “bad dream” is first recorded as late as in 1829 and the meaning of “very bad experience” is first recorded in 1831!

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