Monday, November 9, 2015

Fastballs and chardonnay, and another English word: dream

"I had the weirdest dream last night."

Well of course you did. Dreams are weird.

I used to sigh when my children would pipe brightly in the morning about a dream, and then go on to describe it in detail. When they got older, I told them so, nicely, and we laughed.

But of all things, truly, -- keep recitations of dreams short. Fairy tales wisely do, and the Bible: the fisherman's wife dreamed she must eat rampion or die, the three wise men were warned in a dream to go home another way. That's all. Because you see, if you insist on long-winded descriptions, know that there is absolutely no common frame of reference for your listener to understand you. It's difficult enough to make yourself understood when you are talking about reality. When it comes to the "phantasms of the mind in sleep," your interlocutor can make no more sincere answer than a sort of universal, helpless, motherly "...wo-ow." If a child has had a nightmare, then it's possible to soothe him by pointing out how some detail of it came from real life. Otherwise, have mercy. Keep it short.

I will do so, only it's so odd when a dream is an entire story, told to you by a person in your dream who seems an actual human being -- male, sixty-ish, slim, clean-shaven, bald, glasses -- but whom you do not know in life. Last night's dream-story had to do with baseball team managers being overheard planning something nefarious -- I could see them in the dugout -- overheard because they had some sort of new-style microphones implanted in their mouths. "They used to make an incision," the dream-man told me. He gestured at his own chin. Because of the scandal, fastballs were not allowed to be pitched anymore, and fans were angry, and this explained declining chardonnay sales. People had to reach over a bunch of other bottles that were in the way, and the chardonnay was crammed in. Of course. In my dream I went on to retell the story to other listeners, and they understood perfectly. "O-oh! Of course."   

Years ago my cousin Sally told me the joke that "White Sox fans like baseball, Cubs fans are chardonnay drinkers," by way of explaining the fact that the Chicago Cubs even exist as a franchise, after generations spent placidly not winning playoffs or World Series. I work retail liquor and I couldn't help but listen to the last game of this year's World Series in its entirety (Kansas City over the New York Mets, 7-2) while working inventory that Sunday in November. Someone had put it on the store radio.




Perhaps all this clarifies what was in my head, like the sources of a child's nightmare. But how do we make sense of the English word dream? Webster's traces it from Middle English dreme, such a pretty spelling, to the Old English dream, meaning joy or music -- ! Thence straight back to an Indo-European base, -dher, "echoic of humming." This seems quite an etymological leap, not in terms of reasonableness but in sheer time. Then Webster's suggests a sort of lateral derivation, from Old Norse draumr to German and Dutch draum and droom, with which Doctor Johnson agrees, and back again to a possible IE -dhreugh, "to deceive." Also reasonable. Though I like humming better. "See DORBEETLE," the beetle that hums in flight.   

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