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Are there idioms (or single words) in English for people who behave like they have come from another world where everything is perfect and know nothing about the reality? They usually come up with ideas that can never work, but look attractive if you don't analyze them properly. They know nothing about science, and it seems they don't know that people lie, cheat and get violent.
PS in Russian we usually use the word "эльфы" (elves) for such people, and they are supposedly visiting our world from the "world of elves". It's usually considered pejorative.

  • 7
    I don't have an answer, but I'm delighted to hear you have 'elfy' in Russia. – David Garner Feb 20 '15 at 16:30
  • People who are so heavenly minded they're of no earthly good? Just a suggestion. Don – rhetorician Feb 20 '15 at 16:31
  • "Moron" would do. – Lightness Races with Monica Feb 20 '15 at 18:32
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    How about Politician? – Minnow Feb 20 '15 at 20:37
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    Honestly, this is the first I heard about someone being called an elf, even though I am Russian myself. – Malcolm Feb 21 '15 at 20:51

14 Answers 14

17

space cadet: someone with little grasp of reality. Also spacey or spaced-out.

E.T. or Extraterrestrial -- commonly used to refer to those from outer space. Commonly used to refer to actual residents of other worlds, but also applied to those that act like they are from another planet.

Eggheads: intellectuals that have little in the way of social skills or awareness. Also absent minded though this is a weaker term.

Airhead: Perhaps not stupid (though that may be implied), but lacking in reasoning skills and common sense.

Living in a dream world. Generally clueless re: reality.

Likely any similar term will be pejorative.

  • Well, I know this much, it ain't Albert Einstein! +1 – user98990 Feb 20 '15 at 16:52
  • "Spacey" is especially a good way to describe such a person. – Zibbobz Feb 20 '15 at 19:27
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    Space cadet is good, but spacey or spaced-out are implied to be temporary conditions rather than chronic ones, and they're really a brand of absent-mindedness rather than of living in a different universe than the rest of us. – Marthaª Feb 20 '15 at 22:35
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    Egghead and airhead are not really suitable here, I’d say. An egghead is just an intellectual, academic person, whether they have social skills or not—they’re usually anything but ‘elvish’, at least within their own sphere. And airhead is just a slightly less rude way of saying ‘idiot’, the image being that their head is full of nothing but air where their brain is supposed to be. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 21 '15 at 11:53
23

naive [nah-eev]

adjective

  1. having or showing unaffected simplicity of nature or absence of artificiality; unsophisticated; ingenuous.
  2. having or showing a lack of experience, judgment, or information; credulous: "She's so naive she believes everything she reads. He has a very naive attitude toward politics."

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/naive

  • 3
    This is the answer to the question. All other answers either are overly esoteric (like "space cadet") or mean something different (like "egghead"). – Jordan Feb 21 '15 at 2:01
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    This is certainly the definitive answer, though it lacks the pejorative connotations the questioner mentions. – Sold Out Activist Feb 22 '15 at 2:46
  • The original spelling of the word is naïve as it's a borrowed word from another language, but naive is also OK as it's a modernized spelling. – ADTC Feb 23 '15 at 8:12
  • Well, unless you're applying it to a man, in which case its "naïf." :) And, at least in my neck of the woods, the connotations are pejorative, if not exceedingly so. – Joel Derfner Mar 3 '15 at 12:39
17

Such a person could be described as 'having their head in the clouds'.

A question regarding the meaning of this idiom has been posed and answered on this very website: "his or her head in the clouds" meaning

In specific relation to your example, saying that one of your elves had his head in the clouds would convey a frustration with his naive, overly simplistic, facile or optimistic view of the world, his misaligned priorities, and his general lack of self-awareness and of focus on the issues surrounding him that actually matter.

  • Day after day, his head in the clouds, the man with the foolish grin is speaking perfectly loud... – Zibbobz Feb 20 '15 at 19:31
  • Zibbobz You comment reminded me of the lyrics in fool on the hill thebeatles.com/song/fool-hill – Gary Walker Feb 20 '15 at 19:38
14

Adding to the good answers so far: Living in la-la land, and perhaps more BrE than AmE, in cloud-cuckoo land

  • la-la land -- seems to convey the intended meaning, but isn't cuckoo usually a reference to broader mental dysfunction, not social issues? – Gary Walker Feb 20 '15 at 17:03
  • Yes, "cuckoo" alone does, but "cloud-cuckoo" has the connotation of a delusion of perfection. It's not widely seen in the US. – Jim Mack Feb 20 '15 at 17:12
  • I've heard "delusions of adequacy" in US. – Brian Hitchcock Feb 21 '15 at 10:56
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    Do note that living in la-la land can also be used literally, to refer to someone who lives in Hollywood (or at least Los Angeles). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 21 '15 at 11:55
  • "Cloud-cuckoo land" is from Aristophanes "The Birds". The perfection is naive, so closely related to the requested concept. – Keith Feb 23 '15 at 2:21
10

You and your pie in the sky ideas. Not everything is rainbows and unicorns. Get down to earth. Stop dreaming.

7

Such a person is sometimes called a "Pollyanna" or they are said to be behaving "pollyannaish". It comes from the Eleanor Porter novel of the same name. The main character is a young girl who develops a life philosophy of always seeing things from the best possible light, even in spite of considerable evidence to the contrary. It can be used in a positive way if someone is seen to be rightly "looking on the bright side", but more often it's used as a negative term for someone who is being unreasonably optimistic -- akin to the way the word "childish" is typically used in the negative.

  • It's worth noting that Pollyanna is a term that's only understood in the US. utopian, idealist, naive are understood everywhere. – smci Feb 23 '15 at 2:58
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    I had a teacher (in the UK) who used to call me Pollyanna, for the reasons given. – CompanyDroneFromSector7G Feb 23 '15 at 11:51
  • @bukko but would you have understood if the teacher hadn't explained? – Pete Kirkham Feb 23 '15 at 14:05
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    probably not, but I was 7... – CompanyDroneFromSector7G Feb 23 '15 at 14:31
  • I disagree with smci's assertion. This word is not a colloquialism. It came from a 100 year old book written by an American woman. It was later made (1960s) into a Disney movie that received worldwide distribution. It was shown in Soviet Russia. If scmi's assertion were true, then no Americans would be familiar with Rowling's Harry Potter series, since apparently we're not allowed to read books that are written by people across the pond. The adjective "utopian" itself is a reference to an English book: Utopia, by Sir Thomas Moore. Somehow I miraculously have awareness of it as an American. – Calphool Feb 23 '15 at 15:40
7

The phrase "live a sheltered life" may be what you are looking for.

Cambridge dictionary says this phrase is "used in a negative way" and defines it as:

to have a life in which you are protected too much and experience very little danger, excitement, or change

Merriam-Webster defines "sheltered" as the following (and gives "a sheltered life" as an example for it):

protected from the troubles, annoyances, sordidness, etc., encountered in competitive situations

  • Innocent has similar connotations. But maybe only in French--sometimes I can't tell the difference... – Mathieu K. Feb 20 '15 at 22:32
6

A person who has little experience in the ways of the world may properly be called a naïf ("a naïve person," according to Merriam-Webster) or a babe in the woods ("a naive inexperienced person," again per MW).

My favorite idiomatic expression (from about 20 years ago) for describing a person who seems "spacey"—out of touch with reality and unacquainted with the practical calculations that help a person avoid being cheated or otherwise misused by others—is "He's [or She's] from Zone Z." Unfortunately, I couldn't find a single Google Books reference to "Zone Z" in this idiomatic sense, so its area of use may be (or have been) rather narrowly circumscribed.

5

There is, of course, unworldly that conveys this idea in a single world. It is closer to being unsophisticated.

Having or showing little understanding of the ways of the world; naive or impractical [TFD]

This word has other meanings as well. It can describe someone who is not concerned with material values and mundane things. It also has a literal sense to define things that doesn't belong to this world, things that are supernatural like ghosts, spirits etc. and things that does not seem to belong to this planet like strange formations.


As an idiom, you can consider seeing the world through rose-colored glasses (or rose-tinted glasses). It means seeing only the pleasant sides of life and being overly optimistic.

Apparently, happiness is looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses.

  • I think otherworldy may be common for this. – Gary Walker Feb 20 '15 at 17:05
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    @GaryWalker: I think "unworldly" is better to convey the first meaning I mentioned. "Otherworldly" is stronger in other senses. – ermanen Feb 20 '15 at 17:09
1

Ideal word would be Utopian. I can imagine myself using many words with similar connotations such as alien, Extraterrestrial, celestial being, time-traveler, fusspot, visionary, romanticist , chimerical etc.

  • indieed, a naive utopian, aloof utopian, naive visionary, naive idealist, seems the fastest way of saying... elves... – com.prehensible Feb 21 '15 at 11:38
  • Words like extraterrestrial, celestial being, and time-traveler may align with the O.P.'s title (i.e., someone “not from this world”), but they don't seem to fit with the body of the question (know nothing about reality; come up with ideas that can never work; know nothing about science). Perhaps you can cite some quotations where these terms are used in the "usually pejorative" manner that the O.P. seeks. – J.R. Feb 22 '15 at 20:53
  • May be. I'm just letting my mind wander if I encounter such a case :) – piyush_sao Feb 22 '15 at 20:58
1

The French words ingénu (masculine) or ingénue (feminine) have been incorporated into English, usually with the accent, but you sometimes see them without. The meaning corresponds more or less to what you’re after, as described by the Wikipedia entry for Voltaire's novella L’Ingénu.

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1
  • idealist (n.) /idealistic (adj.)
  • utopian
  • naive
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Not a single word, but away with the fairies is possibly the closest UK English idiom to your Russian 'visitor from the elves'

0

I'd go with offworlder. It conveys a lot of the meaning you mention in the question. However, no pejorative meaning.

Alternatively I would consider already mentioned alien. This would underscore the alieness (complete difference in everything), but, again, would not necessarily be pejorative.

We have saying in Poland: One from different fairytale. Close to yours :). And this one is pejorative. Also, contemptuous.

And, last but not least, there may be something to be said about good old American Tourist... But this one is downright nasty...

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