We all know what it is. A bad dream that leaves you breathless. Or any situation that conjured up those horrible feelings. Right?

Well, today…sure. But in fact, nightmare didn’t mean “any bad dream” until 1829! What did it mean before then, you ask?

Well, it was actually a mythological creature’s name. The nightmare was thought to be a goblin or incubus who preyed on both people and horses in their sleep, pressing on their chests and trying to suffocate them.

That “horse” connection made me wonder if it’s still a solid equestrian word, if this particular incubus resembled a horse or something…I’m not entirely certain, but I can tell you that the spellings aren’t identical in the root Old English they come from. Not to say they’re not related somehow.

An interesting note is that the idea of a goblin nightmare stems from the same mythology that ascribed a demonic identity to echo as well. Echo was a goblin that mocked humans it heard out of doors…Nightmare was one that oppressed us in our sleep.

Nightmare became metaporical for any bad situation in 1831, an nightmarish came along in 1834.

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