English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Cloud Cuckoo Land in English is a term often used to describe an unrealistically utopian idea of how things are.

You're living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

However how did the term get started to be used? Who coined it or made it popular?

share|improve this question
up vote 10 down vote accepted

It originally came from an Ancient Greek satirical play by Aristophanes (The Birds 414BC), in which the original Greek Νεφελοκοκκυγία was often translated as Cloud cuckoo town until the early 1900s. In the play it is a town (or city, more exactly - but it's Ancient Greece, so we're not talking London or New York here).

The 20s and 30s saw a sudden upsurge in the "Cloud Cuckoo Land" form. I think initially this was particularly in political invective (newspaper, radio, later tv). Possibly because the supposedly 'erudite' association with classical learning prevented it being deemed 'unparliamentary language' in Britain (or the equivalent in the US). Later usages diverge somewhat from the exact nature of the satirical original; they often just mean "unrealistic to the point of insanity", with no recognition of the aspirations for "social justice" those early birds forlornly hoped to achieve.

I can't resist quoting from the Wikipedia link above. Remember it's a play competing with others for accolades at its inaugural performance in the 414BC festival (open air, doubtless). After some rather surreal law-making, the birds deliver a parabasis (aside from playwright to audience), which "ends by advising the festival judges to award them first place or risk getting crapped on".

I like that bit! Aristophanes's play actually lost out to Ameipsias's Comastae at that City Dyonisia; I'd like to hope some real birds did the dirty deed!

share|improve this answer
Did anyone in particular make it more popular? It's a curious phrase to just come out of the ether. – Jez Jul 8 '11 at 19:02
@Jez, the "Cloud cuckoo land" wikipedia article lists a number of famous quotes using the phrase. In more recent history, the list includes such names as Adolf Hitler, Schopenhauer, Bernard Ingham and Ann Widdecombe. – Alain Pannetier Φ Jul 8 '11 at 19:48
@Alain Pannetier: I stand by my belief that 'educated' politicians were a significant factor in bringing the phrase into common parlance. – FumbleFingers Jul 8 '11 at 21:18

@FumbleFingers is mostly right. It's from Aristophanes' The Birds, where they are building Νεφελοκοκκυγία (Nephelokokkygia), literally "cloud-cukoo-place". Schopenhauer revived it as Wolkenkuckucksheim, lit. "cloud-cukoo-home" but the -heim suffix is common for German city names.

share|improve this answer
Interesting point that the current usage, of an unrealistic idea, drives classicists mad: Aristophanes' city is built in record time and defeats the immortal gods. – TimLymington Jul 8 '11 at 20:33

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.