build castles in the air

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English[edit]

Political satire (1740): "Spain by Folly, Castles builds, and places them in Air."

Etymology[edit]

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.

Verb[edit]

build castles in the air (third-person singular simple present builds castles in the air, present participle building castles in the air, simple past and past participle built castles in the air or (archaic or poetic) builded castles in the air)

  1. (transitive, idiomatic) To have any desire, idea, or plan that is unlikely to be realized; to imagine visionary projects or schemes; to have an idle fancy or a pipe dream; to daydream.
    • 1696, John Vanbrugh, “The Relapse; or, Virtue in Danger. []”, in (Please provide the book title or journal name), 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.
    • 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.
    • Rita Rudner, US comedian:
      Neurotics build castles in the air, psychotics live in them. My mother cleans them.
    • David Frost, English journalist, comedian and writer:
      Labor and you build castles in the air. Vote Conservative and you can live in them.

Related terms[edit]

Translations[edit]