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castle in the air (plural castles in the air)

  1. (idiomatic) A desire, idea, or plan that is unlikely to ever be realized; a visionary project or scheme; a daydream, an idle fancy, a near impossibility. [from mid 16th c.]
    Synonyms: castle in Spain, castle in the skies, pipe dream, eggs in moonshine, jam tomorrow, pie in the sky
    • 1621, Democritus Junior [pseudonym; Robert Burton], “Of the Force of Imagination”, in The Anatomy of Melancholy, Oxford: Printed by Iohn Lichfield and Iames Short, for Henry Cripps, OCLC 216894069; The Anatomy of Melancholy: [], 2nd corrected and augmented edition, Oxford: Printed by John Lichfield and James Short, for Henry Cripps, 1624, OCLC 54573970, partition 1, section 2, member 3, subsection 2, page 81:
      Many times ſuch men when they come to themſelves, tell ſtrange things of Heauen and Hell, what viſions they haue ſeene; [] The like effects almost are to bee ſeene in ſuch as are awake: How many Chimæras, Anticks, golden mountaines, and Caſtles in the Aire doe they build vnto themſelves?
    • 1696, John Vanbrugh, The Relapse; or, Virtue in Danger. [] (Bell’s British Theatre; XXVI), London: Printed for the proprietors, under the Direction of John Bell, [], published 1795, OCLC 837257051, Act III, scene ii, page 72:
      Look you, Amanda, you may build castles in the air, "and fume, and fret, and grow thin and lean, and pale and ugly, if you please." But I tell you, no man worth having is true to his wife, or can be true to his wife, or ever was, or will be so.
    • 1822, [Walter Scott], chapter III, in Peveril of the Peak. [...] In Four Volumes, volume III, Edinburgh: Printed for Archibald Constable and Co.; London: Hurst, Robinson, and Co., OCLC 2392685, page 70:
      Her unlimited devotion for "the family," readily induced the old lady to acquiesce in his proposal, though not without a gentle sigh over the ruins of a castle in the air, which was founded on the well-saved purse of Mistress Deborah Debbitch.
    • 1847 January – 1848 July, William Makepeace Thackeray, “Rebecca is in Presence of the Enemy”, in Vanity Fair. A Novel without a Hero, London: Bradbury and Evans, [], published 1848, OCLC 3174108, page 18:
      She had a vivid imagination; [] and it is a fact, that while she was dressing for dinner, and after she had asked Amelia whether her brother was very rich, she had built for herself a most magnificent castle in the air, of which she was mistress, with a husband somewhere in the background (she had not seen him as yet, and his figure would not therefore be very distinct); []
    • 1854 August 9, Henry D[avid] Thoreau, “Conclusion”, in Walden; or, Life in the Woods, Boston, Mass.: Ticknor and Fields, OCLC 4103827, page 346:
      If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
    • 2013 December 18, Kenneth Khulekani Khoza, Castles in the Air, [Bloomington, Ind.]: Xlibris, →ISBN, Act I, scene i, page 21:
      We used to build castles in the air. We had big dreams. I'm not sure if you still have those dreams, but I still have dreams.

Usage notesEdit

Completing the metaphor, one is said to form or build a castle in the air.

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