A poor boy wishing if he could have dinner in a five star restaurant, a beggar wishing if he could travel in a BMW - all these are example of the Bengali idiom which if translated literally means, a dwarf wishing to touch the moon. Is there an equivalent idiom in English?

  • 3
    Does the original idiom imply that the person is actually attempting to achieve the stated goal or merely that s/he is wishing it were true/dreaming about it?
    – Papa Poule
    Oct 13, 2015 at 17:02
  • 1
    Is the idiom making any particular comment or judgement on a situation that is happening, telling people they should or shouldn't do it regardless of whether it is happening, or merely an identification of something that is happening without any form of judgement?
    – smithkm
    Oct 13, 2015 at 17:46
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    envy fits, and should form a nice hyphenated compound with a word of your choice, such as bankroll-envy
    – Ben Voigt
    Oct 13, 2015 at 19:03
  • 6
    A strange idiom, that. It implies that that 384 million meters up is easy for a person of normal height to reach, but that 384 million and one meters is completely insurmountable for a dwarf. Oct 13, 2015 at 19:21
  • 2
    The question already says "wish" 4 times in it with examples. Isn't it obvious what it implies?
    – ermanen
    Oct 13, 2015 at 19:30

6 Answers 6


Consider champagne taste on a beer budget

(idiomatic) Expensive wants or preferences which one lacks the finances to fulfill satisfactorily.


There is also the saying If wishes were horses, beggars might [would] ride

an English language proverb and nursery rhyme, originating in the 16th century, which is usually used to suggest that it is useless to wish and that better results will be achieved through action.


  • 1
    I feel these, while similar, aren't quite hitting the mark: certainly the former is more about pretensions of grandeur, rather than ambition to achieve it. The latter does have more of the "ambition" side, but is really an advice-y proverb (of the "A stitch in time saves nine" ilk) rather than a metaphor for someone ambitious.
    – Jon Story
    Oct 14, 2015 at 9:00

castles in the air

Also, castles in Spain, plans or hopes that have very little chance of happening. AHD says: Extravagant hopes and plans that will never be carried out.
OD offers this sentence example:

  • My father built castles in the air about owning a boat

TFD provides a little history and the following examples of usage.

  • Musing about the bestseller list, she was apt to build castles in the air.

  • She tells me she's planned out her whole career, but as far as I can see it's all just castles in the air.

The first term dates from the late 1500s. The variant, castles in Spain (or chateaux en Espagne), was recorded in the Roman de la Rose in the 13th century and translated into English about 1365.

When people yearn or desire for things that are fanciful, and completely disconnected to their reality, we say the wishes are just pipe dreams

pipe dream

Meaning: An unrealistic hope or fantasy.
Origin: The allusion is to the dreams experienced by smokers of opium pipes. Opiates were widely used by the English literati in the 18th and 19th centuries. […]
The early references to the phrase all originate from in or around Chicago. The earliest I have found is from The Chicago Daily Tribune, December 1890:

  • "It [aerial navigation] has been regarded as a pipe-dream for a good many years."

Source: The Phrase Finder

  • 1
    +1 ! For what it’s worth, I think “[building] castles in the air” covers nicely both potential meanings of the original idiom: the “reaching for” meaning by “building them” and the “wishing for” one by “in the air.” Regardless, it made me think first of Don Quixote, perhaps the best-known dreamer of impossible dreams and then, with @BenVoigt ’s interesting suggestion in mind, of “castle-envy.”
    – Papa Poule
    Oct 13, 2015 at 21:34
  • I would like to add one more here: He used to conceive pie-in-the-sky ideas. Oct 14, 2015 at 8:05
  • @JonyAgarwal yes, that was one of my first thoughts but the dictionary definitions and examples did not exactly match the OP's request. Well... I was hesitant to suggest it. You can if you want :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 14, 2015 at 8:09
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    Castles in the sky seems to me to be a very close fit for the original request
    – Jon Story
    Oct 14, 2015 at 9:02
  • "castles in the air" is exactly what the OP is asking for, but It didn't occur to me. "Happy are those children that have railways in the hall, painting in the kitchen, stories when they're small. Friends to come and visit them, ribbons for their hair. To an awful lot of children these are castles in the air..." - beautiful song.
    – Centaurus
    Oct 14, 2015 at 13:40

"to reach for the moon", "to reach for the stars" or "to reach for the sky", they all mean

. to try to achieve something that is very difficult.

e.g. "If you want success, you have to reach for the moon." TFD

"reach for the moon" (also: reach for the stars) - be overly ambitious; try to do or get something impossible

  • e.g. "She is always reaching for the moon and getting disappointed

You and me, we reached for the sky, the limit was high Never giving in, certain we could win that prize, I should have seen it in your eyes. (You and Me, Frank Sinatra)

  • 6
    Isn't "reach for the moon" trying the impossible rather than wishing it?
    – ermanen
    Oct 13, 2015 at 19:33
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    The question seems to be asking for an empty wishing for the improbable, not striving for the impossible.
    – Aaron Hall
    Oct 13, 2015 at 21:02
  • It's similar on the "reach for the moon" side of things, though, and worth mentioning on that basis
    – Jon Story
    Oct 14, 2015 at 9:01

getting ideas above one's station

To get ideas above one's station means to imagine one has the privileges and respect that are reserved for one's social superiors.

station here refers to one's social position. In the glory days of the English class system this was a rather fixed position, hence station.



Fools rush in where angels fear to tread is what you're after.

Ignorant or inexperienced individuals get involved in situations that wiser persons would avoid, as in I've never heard this symphony and here I am conducting it-oh well, fools rush in where angels fear to tread , or He tried to mediate their unending argument-fools rush in. This expression, so well known it is sometimes shortened as in the second example, is a quotation from Alexander Pope's Essay on Criticism (1709): "No place so sacred from such fops is barr'd ... Nay, fly to altars; there they'll talk you dead; For fools rush in where angels fear to tread." The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms

The Meditating Cat - Bengali Proverbs and Their Echoes in Far Cultures defines a dwarf wanting to touch the moon as follows:

(I.) Audaciously aspiring far beyond one's means, abilities, station in life etc.

(Eng) Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.


If the "aristocratic" element is essential, I would consider putting on airs, which is said of a lower-class person perceived to be acting as if he were of a higher class. (There may also be a sense that he's just aping the upper-class mannerisms, such that a "native" of the class will know he's an interloper, but the people who use the phrase tend to be of lower classes themselves, and wouldn't be the ones to catch him out at it.) I don't know whether it properly captures the sense that reaching that class is impossible.

The word "uppity" gets at the same idea, but has some really ugly baggage, given what noun it has frequently modified.

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