Dream dapples, Pied-beams and Tantalights


I’m searching for a word; a word to describe a very specific type of momentary yearning.

This is a particular sensation, experienced only when sunlight reaches through a train window and rests, briefly, on your arm or leg, creating a warm patch of golden light.

As the beam touches you, it has a near instant effect, quickly drawing your thoughts out through the window and filling you with a desire to be out there, on the other side of the glass, walking in the sunlight, exploring the city streets, or escaping over the horizon, (I like to think of this particular effect as a positive variety of Corpse-light or Willow-the-wisp, but without the danger of being drawn into some terrible dark and boggy end). When it happens you must be engaged on a journey you can’t easily break away from -commuting to work, or heading for some other unavoidable life-admin activity.

When this last happened to me, Monday morning on a train bound for Blackfriars; after a fleeting moment of reverie, I wondered if other people feel this and then if there was a word for this particular sensation? Perhaps it can be found somewhere in Robert Macfarlane’s word of the day on Twitter, or Dominick Tyler’s Uncommon Ground. Though I haven’t seen it yet.

Toying with ideas for words that might work, I thought perhaps Tantalight – after hoping Tantalus, but on reflection and a bit of search-engine action, this doesn’t quite capture the warmth part of the moment, which is essential to its power. Also, it seems, there is a film with that name, along with a dating app and an industrial black stone supplier. There is also Tantalite; the most common tantalum mineral. I do like the sound of it, but it won’t quite do.

I then thought maybe Titilight – like Titilate – could work, given the fleeting, insubstantional nature of this phenomenon, before quickly rejecting the word for sounding like some terrible strip-joint and a little bit weedy and light-weight.

Next I considered Pied-Beam as a potential answer: meaning a Pied-Piper-like beam of light, that serves to draw one out towards adventures in the sun. More obvious alternatives for this could be Outlights, or Drawlights.

Taking a further literary turn, I wondered if a Belle-Dame might serve, after Keats. There is something a little bit magical and enticing about these inspiring dapples of warm sunlight, however I decided that an elfin-enchantress themed name felt a little too self-consciously fey and contrived. In addition such a sensation/phenomena is surely gender neutral. So my final contender, for now, would be Dream-Dappled or Dream-dapples, which feels almost right.

Whatever it may be, if such a word doesn’t exist, it really ought to. If nothing else, it’s given me a new, occasional strand for this blog to wander into, especially as I often miss, or lose words and flail about trying to find them again.


I used to have a bad habit of substituting lewd or suggestive alternative words into the lyrics of popular songs and singing these instead. Often greatly amusing to me, the practise was mostly irritating or tedious to those on the receiving end of it.

Then one day reading an article about something music or band related, I discovered that there was a word for this very habit. Suddenly what I was doing was legitimate. No less annoying, but it was a THING.

How I don’t know, but I didn’t write the word down straight away and now, despite trying to track it down, I can’t find it again.

There are words in the area that come close, but none that I can find again that have exactly the same precise meaning. There’s Mondegreen for example, a mishearing of a word or phrase in a poem or song for something that sounds very similar – a ‘near homophony’.  A famous example is contained in Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze, where many listeners have heard the line: “Excuse me while I kiss this guy”, rather than the actual lyric; “Excuse me while I kiss the sky…”.

For a long time in my teens I thought The Clash were “Breaking Rocks in a hotel” rather than “Breaking rocks in the hot sun” in I Fought The Law.

Some artists have used Deliberate Mondegreens for a double-entendre effect, or single-entendre in the case of the Sex Pistol’s Pretty Vacant. This is not the same as someone else swapping a word.

This sort of ludic punning isn’t confined to the English language either, Manu Chao’s Me Gustas Tu, contains a delightful homophonic line “Que hora son mi corazon”, roughly but not rhymingly translating as “What time is it my heart?”

Another related linguistic phenomenon is Mumpsimus when someone continues to mispronounce a word after being corrected – like Pacific for Specific for example.

However neither of these words are quite the one I am looking for. I found it once, but lost it again. And now it is joined by yet another companion in whatever the correct term for Dream-Dappled, or Tantalight may be. One day I’ll find them both.

Links & References



Uncommon Ground

Robert Macfarlane on Twitter



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