I'm looking for a word (or concise phrase) that describe a wish/desire that is too optimistic or demanding to be realistic.


To hope that human beings will always remain rational is a ____.

A world free from scarcity seemed like a childish ____.

  • 1
    While not a perfect match to your needs, consider using the word dream. – Gary's Student Feb 15 '19 at 18:46

The phrase "pipe dream" used to be popular. Cambridge English Dictionary online defines it as "an idea or plan that is impossible or unlikely to happen."

  • Just regular dream usually works as well, with slightly different connotations – Kyle Delaney Feb 15 '19 at 21:49

Try fantasy. The word can be used to describe an unrealistic or improbable desire.

Merriam-Webster, definition 5:

the power or process of creating especially unrealistic or improbable mental images in response to psychological need

In your examples, the beliefs are unrealistic and can be supposed to come from some psychological need (a wish, a desire, a need for optimism).

Relevant synonyms include delusion (which has a stronger sense of false belief) and pipe dream (which is closer in meaning and often refers to plans).

  • I think fantasy best fits the asker's example phrases – Kyle Delaney Feb 15 '19 at 21:50

You could try wishful thinking

Cambridge Dictionary

The imagining of an unlikely future event or situation that you wish were possible.

  • 2
    If you're quoting a dictionary, can you add a link and source? – scohe001 Feb 15 '19 at 20:37

There is also the informal idiom pie-in-the-sky.

A world where the rich don't get richer and the poor don't get poorer —that's just pie-in-the-sky.

  • 1
    If you're quoting a dictionary, can you add a link and source? – scohe001 Feb 15 '19 at 20:37
  • @scohe001: I'm not quoting a dictionary. I'm a native speaker and have been speaking English for decades. That sentence is my own example. – TRomano Feb 15 '19 at 21:53
  • Ahh my bad. Maybe you could add something to indicate that so others don't make the same assumption? Adding "As in:" before the quote block would probably be enough. – scohe001 Feb 15 '19 at 22:06

This is referred to as Hope against hope:

to hope against hope [after Romans 4:18] : to hope where there are no reasonable grounds for doing so; to hope very much. Hence hope-against-hope.

You may also be hoping on a A wing and a prayer:

a wing and a prayer: a jocular form of reference (after quot. 1943) to an emergency landing by an aircraft; also fig. and as attributive.phr. in allusion to reliance on hope in desperate situations.

If you're more desperate than hopeful, you may also be Clutching at straws:

[Willing to t]ry any route to get out of a desperate situation, no matter how unlikely it is to succeed.

  • I don't think these phrases mean "too optimistic" or "unrealistic". These phrases go to the notion of desperation. – TRomano Feb 15 '19 at 21:56
  • @TRomano All of my phrases (barring "clutching at straws") focus on hope. I would argue that hope and unrealistic optimism go hand in hand. – scohe001 Feb 15 '19 at 22:00
  • A person who is clutching at straws is not doing so out of optimism but out of desperation. – TRomano Feb 15 '19 at 22:50
  • @Tromano that looks like it matches what I’ve written in my answer. Did you have some improvement to my wording you think I could make? – scohe001 Feb 16 '19 at 0:35

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