What does ‘oneiric’ mean?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: oneiric…

I can’t remember who recommended the novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves to me. But I read the book, by Karen Joy Fowler, during a recent holiday. Wow! I was impressed by the captivating story (about a dysfunctional family) and the very fine writing. The author also gave me my word of the week, oneiric.

Here is how Fowler used it:

This house lay in an oneiric hush.

I assumed the word had something to do with quiet. Almost! The adjective means “of or relating to dreams” and comes directly from the Greek noun oneiros (meaning “to dream”). In Greek mythology, the Oneiroi, or Dreams, were the brothers (or sons, depending on the author) of Hypnos, or Sleep.

In the early 1600s, words such as “oneirocriticism,” “oneirocritical,” and “oneirocritic” came into vogue, each referring to dream interpreters or interpretation. At the time,  scholars were interested in Oneirocritica, a book about dream interpretation by 2nd-century Greek professional diviner Artemidorus Daldianus.

The word oneiric didn’t get used as an English adjective until the mid-19th century.  Today, the adjective oneiric is often used in film theory to describe the dream-like elements of a movie.