Saturday, April 13, 2013

Castles In The Air

What the heck?

So, I have never heard of this saying before. Now, I have seen it twice within a month.

I am reading a great free book that I got for my Kindle. It is an old book that is on public domain. It is a book on nineteenth century etiquette 'cause I want to act like a real lady someday. Suddenly I come across this...

"The exaltation of the whole scene favours its development, and it can hardly be wondered at if both parties leave judgment out in the cold while enjoying each other's society, and possibly already pleasantly occupied in building 'castles in the air.' Whatever may eventually come of it, the fair one is conscious for the nonce of being unusually happy."[1]

The first was from the book that I am reporting on for Pilgrim housing, A Little Commonwealth by John Demos.

“William Bradford writes of one group of settlers who came to Plymouth in 1623 that they ‘looked for greater matters than they found or could attain unto, about building great houses and such pleasant situations for them as themselves had fancied; as if they would be great men and rich all of a sudden. But they proved castles in the air’.”[2]

So, what the heck does this mean? Is it a real building that God lives in? It is blatantly understood by Demos’ line, but Routledge does not make it clear at all. Perhaps he thought that everyone knew what that meant. Did everyone in the nineteenth century understand this? There is even a song by Don Mclean called Castles in the Air. (can be heard and seen on Youtube). says:

Cultural Dictionary

castles in the air definition

Extravagant hopes and plans that never [will] be carried out: “I told him he should stop building castles in the air and train for a sensible profession.”[3]

And another great one from Wiktionary, this time it includes an origination date (of which you know I always like). It says:


The first term dates from the late 1500s. The variant, castles in Spain (or châteaux en Espagne), was recorded in the Roman de la Rose in the 13th century and translated into English around 1365.


build castles in the air
1.      (idiomatic) To imagine visionary projects or schemes; to daydream; to have an idle fancy, a pipe dream or any plan, desire, or idea that is unlikely to be realized. [4]

[1] George Routledge, Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette. (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1860), Kindle edition, Location 1822
[2] John Demos, A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony. 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.), 27.


  1. You must have lived a practical life :) I got this one as a child all the time.

  2. Maybe I have! It is wonderful to get out of it, then. :D


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