A dream I had during the week may be of passing linguistic interest.
A small group of people were speaking informally to each other. I was both one of them and not, in that way dreams have of detuning subjectivity. It wasn’t a group conversation but something more loose and staged, and most of the verbal content escapes me. The curious thing is that whenever someone said the word chiefly – which they did in most utterances – they gently threw a raccoon to the person they were speaking to. The raccoon didn’t seem to mind.
That’s pretty much it. The dream didn’t last long, but its contents were so memorably silly (and explicitly linguistic) that I mentioned it on Twitter when I got up. Writer Melissa Harrison suggested that it might have been connected to the raccoon that lost its candy floss – a story currently doing the quirky-news rounds.
Continuing her dream-detective work, Melissa asked if I’d used or read the word chiefly the day before, and I realised that I had (in a post for Strong Language, which I’ll write separately about later), and that I’d lingered on it a moment to make sure it was the right adverb. These real-world prompts for the dreamt material can’t be definitive, but they seem likely, especially the raccoon.
I spelled it racoon in the tweet, but the two-c form is much more popular, albeit less so in BrE. Many of the variant spellings listed in the OED (rahaugcum, rahaughcum, rarowcun, raugroughcum, arocoun, aroughcoune, aroughcun, arroughcan, raccoone, rackcame, rackoone, racoone, racoune, racowne, rockoone, rokoone, rackoon) point back to its Virginia Algonquian origin.
I used to dream about words (and numbers) more than I do now, or maybe I just remembered them better. William Wharton’s book Birdy, an old favourite in my student days, has some intriguing sequences on the strange slipperiness of text in dreams, not least lucid dreams. But identifying an adverb with a specific mammal so seemingly arbitrarily is a first for me.
Have you dreamt about words lately?
I’m fascinated by this concept of adding an animal-throwing gesture to a spoken word. Like some sort of Alice-in-Wonderlandesque extension of the nod when saying Yes or the shaking of the head from side to side when saying No.
(not surprising really, I suppose, that a dream would have AinWesque qualities.) (also: can’t stop laughing. there’s something about the word raccoon that makes me laugh. don’t know why.)
Likewise, Meirav. The sources for the items themselves (the word, the animal) were probably unremarkable, but the way they were combined is wonderfully surreal and unpredictable – and yes, quite Alice-esque, not so far from the croquet game with flamingo and hedgehog.
And why stop there…
love it :D
At the weekend I dreamed I had invented a “preposteroscope”. I can’t remember exactly what it did, but people were excited, including me.
Me too! Whatever it is – an instrument to detect or measure preposterousness? – I’d like to try it out. Thanks for reporting this, Andrew.
‘preposteroscope’ @ Andrew Ingram @StanCarey More like an instrument to remind you to look before you post! :-)
Oh, that would be even more useful.
[…] I had another language-related dream a few nights ago. The last time I remember this happening, my sleeping mind conjured a weird connection between raccoons and the word chiefly. […]