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I'm looking for a word to describe the kind of fantasizing and overconfidence someone might exhibit when they are foolishly excited at the prospect of something immensely desireable or something they have wanted deep down, but had, until now, thought unattainable. A few examples for what I'm going for:

  1. A weak mathematician hastily concludes he has solved some longstanding unsolved problem. He believes that with this new proof he will attain the tenured position he has always wanted. He fantasizes about winning the Fields medal and all the recognition he will receive from his colleagues. His proof, however, is flawed in an invalidating way.

  2. A man impoverished by his gambling habits falsely believes he has discovered a secret trick to win roulette. He thinks about the lavish lifestyle he always dreamed of that he can now afford with this trick.

Overconfidence, fantasizing, and foolishness are related, but I thought they described a much wider range of behaviors. Greedy also doesn't seem right; I thought it describes a selfish desire for money or power well beyond what one person needs.

I'm trying to find a word to specifically describe this behavior. I'm okay with words from other languages if they fit better. I'm also okay with compound words or short (2-3 word) phrases as well (just not "overconfident fantasizing" or "foolish fantasizing").

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  • intoxicated, euphoric, exuberant
    – Drew
    Jan 30, 2021 at 0:13

6 Answers 6

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I would call him quixotic:

Quix`ot´ic Pronunciation: kwĭks`ǒt´ĭk

a. 1. Like Don Quixote; romantic to extravagance; prone to pursue unrealizable goals; absurdly chivalric; apt to be deluded.

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  • I think it almost fits, except these characters seem the opposite of chivalric.
    – jet457
    Jan 30, 2021 at 21:53
  • The thing about Don Quixote was that he was delusional--comically so, in fact. It may be possible to imbue your characters with the notion that their selfish goals are somehow noble. Your mathematician may think that he is truly advancing science with his proof, while your gambler may see his own success as a validation of the American dream, or something similar.
    – RobJarvis
    Feb 1, 2021 at 13:56
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These are false hopes or, more perjoratively, delusions. Your characters are delusional.

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I would say he romanticizes.

English Language Learners Definition of romanticize

: to think about or describe something as being better or more attractive or interesting than it really is : to show, describe, or think about something in a romantic way.

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One of the difficulties here is that generally excitement is not part of this fantasy-building. For verbs, daydream is par for the course, but fancy carries with it slightly more energy (you cannot daydream excitedly, but you can fancy something excitedly). As for adjectives describing such a person, infatuated is your best bet.

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In the UK he may be called a Billy Liar, based on the title character of Keith Waterhouse's novel: a 19 year-old, working class kid who lives with his parents -

Billy spends his time indulging in fantasies and dreams of life in the big city as a comedy writer.

Specific to the case of a "weak mathematician", the pejorative term crank is commonly used. From the wikipedia page:

  1. Cranks overestimate their own knowledge and ability, and underestimate that of acknowledged experts.
  2. Cranks insist that their alleged discoveries are urgently important.
  3. Cranks rarely, if ever, acknowledge any error, no matter how trivial.
  4. Cranks love to talk about their own beliefs, often in inappropriate social situations, but they tend to be bad listeners, being uninterested in anyone else's experience or opinions
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I would describe both your mathematician and your gambler as unrealistic (or naive):

having a wrong idea of what is likely to happen or of what you can really do; not based on facts:

  • e.g I think these sales forecasts are unrealistic, considering how slow sales are at present. (Cambridge)

WordHippo defines it as:

Foolishly optimistic; Existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence; Foolish or crazy; Impractical and foolishly idealistic

and gives synonyms as "escapist, utopian or naive".

e.g. They are remote and unrealistic ivory-tower idealists, corrupt self-seekers, secret subversives, or simply too weak to resist villainy.

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