If you keep up with all things HH, you might remember the word barmecide from a few weeks back, defined as “a promised gift or benefit that turns out to be entirely illusory”.
As we explained in the newsletter (and here on the blog), barmecide derives from The Barber’s Sixth Brother, one of the tales in the One Thousand And One Nights collection, in which a starving beggar gamely pretends to eat an imaginary feast served to him by a local nabob. And last week, another superb word for all things illusory cropped up on our Twitter feed that not only takes us back to the Arabian Nights series, but back to another of the barber’s luckless brothers:
Alnaschar is the name of the Barber of Baghdad’s fifth brother. While his sixth brother, Schacabac, squandered his inheritance and ended up begging on the streets, according to the stories Alnaschar at least has the foresight to invest his inheritance in a new business venture, and spends all of his money on a basket of glassware he intends to sell, piece by piece, at twice its value.
Taking up a position in the local marketplace, Alnaschar begins to mull over his ingenious plan:
“This basket,” said Alnaschar to himself, “has cost me a hundred drachmas—all that I possess in the world. Now in selling the contents piece by piece I shall turn two hundred, and these hundreds I shall again lay out in glass, which will produce four hundred. By this means, I shall in course of time make four thousand drachmas, which will easily double themselves. When I have got ten thousand I will give up the glass trade and become a jeweller, and devote all my time to trading in pearls, diamonds, and other precious stones. At last, having all the wealth that heart can desire, I will buy a beautiful country house, with horses and slaves, and then I will lead a merry life and entertain my friends.”
As Alnaschar continues to daydream in the early morning sunshine, his ideas grow ever more fanciful:
“At my feasts I will send for musicians and dancers from the neighbouring town to amuse my guests. In spite of my riches I shall not, however, give up trade till I have amassed a capital of a hundred thousand drachmas, when, having become a man of much consideration, I shall request the hand of the grand-vizier’s daughter.”
Still he continues to daydream, but as he does so his ideas become increasingly power-crazed and egotistical.
He first imagines the grand-vizier turning down his proposal to marry his daughter, whereupon he envisages that he will “seize him by the beard” and drag him to his house to prove to him just how wealthy he has become. Next he imagines his elaborate wedding and then his blissful married life to beautiful new bride, but even then his mind continues to spiral out of control.
Alnaschar imagines becomes so wealthy and powerful that he will demand all in his household, including his wife, to kneel before him. From there, he envisages how this will lead his wife to complain to her mother about how aloof he has become, and lastly he images an angry confrontation with his wife and mother-in-law. But by this time, Alnaschar has lost himself so his fantasies, and in his imagined rage he lashes out and—forgetting the reality of his situation—kicks over his basket of glassware and smashes every piece. His daydreaming has finally got the better of him, and Alnaschar is left penniless.
It’s this story of idle daydreaming, a worship of wealth above all things, and a blindness to actual events and situations that is the origin of alnascharism. First used in the early 1800s, the Oxford English Dictionary defines alnascharism as “a propensity or tendency to indulge in unrealistic dreams”, while to alnascharize is to indulge in such dreams or plans. An Alnaschar’s dream or vision, meanwhile, is an idea that precedes a disaster—namely, another proverbial warning not to count your chickens before they’re hatched. Or, for that matter, your glass bottles.