Adjective > Pipe dream

Adjective – Pipe dream

The phrase “pipe dream” is American and dates back to about 1890. Say that you’re smoking an opium pipe: you might see a grand vision of your future, and you might start dreaming about making that vision a reality. Hence, a pipe dream: a hope or a plan that’s totally unrealistic, as if you dreamed it up while you were smoking.

Add a hyphen to “pipe dream” and you get the verb, “to pipe-dream,” as in “Can we really make this happen, or are we just pipe-dreaming?

And add the suffix “-y” to “pipe-dream” to get the adjective. Something pipe-dreamy is full of hopes or plans that are totally unrealistic.

Part of speech:
adjective: “a pipe-dreamy plan,” “their vision is pipe-dreamy.”

Other forms:
pipe dream, pipe-dream, pipe-dreamed, pipe-dreaming.

how to use it:
It’s fairly common to call something a “pipe dream.” But it’s rare to refer to it with the casual, informal adjective “pipe-dreamy.”

So, choose “pipe-dreamy” when you want to be casual but emphatic about how stupidly hopeless someone’s ideas are. And yes, the tone is often negative and judgmental.

We might talk about pipe-dreamy goals, hopes, plans, schemes, ideas, wish lists, possibilities, etc.

“As recently as 2014, print advertising was collapsing and the idea that subscribers would pay enough to support the company’s expensive global news gathering seemed like a pipe dream.”
— Ben Smith, New York Times, 1 March 2020

“The gab you hear sometimes sounds very dreamy indeed. In fact, it sometimes sounds very pipe-dreamy. Many actors, male and female… [sit] around dreaming out loud about how they will practically assassinate the public in the Palace if ever they get a chance.”
— Damon Runyon, The Bloodhounds of Broadway, 1901

“But, while deriving strength from Shakespeare, the play also invited comparison, and here it was fatally lacking. Instead of Shakespeare’s vigorously imagined misunderstandings and peripeteias, we were given pipe-dreamy vignettes of things as they might have been.”
— British Broadcasting Corporation, The Listener, 1981