Rafael Lanzetti's Tidbits of Philology #6
The word for nightmare has an interesting etymology in many languages. In English, although one might think "mare" refers to a female horse, the term really comes from Old English "mære", a female demon (sometimes called by her Latin name, "Incubus") whose job was to kill sleepers.
The word in Dutch, "nachtmerrie", comes from the same Germanic roots.
In Swedish, "mardröm" has the same Germanic root, "mar", combined with the word for dream, "dröm".
In French, the term is "cauchemar", and the stem "mar" has probably the same origin as the Old English "mære" (or was borrowed from it), while "cauche" comes from Old French "chauchier" and means "press (down)", that awful, tense feeling we get during a nightmare when it feels like something is pressing us down the mattress.
Both Romanian and Bulgarian adopted the French word, "coșmar" and "кошмар", respectively.
The Portuguese ("pesadelo") and Spanish ("pesadilla") [note that the Portuguese word is masculine, while the Spanish one is feminine] also contain this allusion to "pressing down", as "pesado" means "heavy".
The Italian word ("incubo") refers directly to the Latin demon, no euphemisms needed!
The Persian word کابوس ['kɒː.bus] also alludes to the Latin demon.
In German, "Alptraum", which contains the stem "Traum" (dream), refers to the "Alben", the elves responsible for giving people bad dreams.
Finally, the Greek word "εφιάλτης" does not seem to have a precise origin, but the probable etymology is Ancient Greek "επί + άλλομαι”, which can mean a number of different things, from "a grain of salt", "leap" and "soul" (compare with Lat. "alma").
So, how do you say "nightmare" in your language? Can you tell us anything about its etymology?
Have a nice nightmare-free week, y'all!