c. 1300, "an evil female spirit afflicting men (or horses) in their sleep with a feeling of suffocation," compounded from night + mare (n.3) "goblin that causes nightmares, incubus." The meaning shifted mid-16c. from the incubus to the suffocating sensation it causes. Sense of "any bad dream" is recorded by 1829; that of "very distressing experience" is from 1831.
Cognate with Middle Dutch nachtmare, German Nachtmahr. An Old English word for it was niht-genga. An 11c. gloss gives, for Latin Echo, Anglo-Saxon wudumær, a "wood-mere."
In the Anglo-Saxon superstitions, the Echo was supposed to be a spirit which dwelt in the wilds and mocked people who passed there, as the night-mare tormented people in bed. [Thomas Wright, "Anglo-Saxon and Old English Vocabularies," 1884]
"night-goblin, incubus, oppressed sleep," Old English mare "incubus, nightmare, monster," from mera, mære, from Proto-Germanic *maron "goblin" (source also of Middle Low German mar, Middle Dutch mare, Old High German mara, German Mahr "incubus," Old Norse mara "nightmare, incubus"). This is from PIE *mora- "incubus" (source also of first element in Old Irish Morrigain "demoness of the corpses," literally "queen of the nightmare," also Bulgarian, Serbian mora, Czech mura, Polish zmora "incubus"). Also compare French cauchemar "nightmare," with first element from Old French caucher "to trample" and second element from Germanic.
All this is probably from PIE root *mer- "to rub away, harm" (also "to die" and forming words referring to death and to beings subject to death). The word in English now survives only in nightmare (q.v.).
Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to rub away, harm." Possibly identical with the root *mer- that means "to die" and forms words referring to death and to beings subject to death.
It forms all or part of: amaranth; ambrosia; amortize; Amritsar; immortal; manticore; marasmus; mare (n.3) "night-goblin, incubus;" morbid; mordacious; mordant; moribund; morsel; mort (n.2) "note sounded on a horn at the death of the quarry;" mortal; mortality; mortar; mortgage; mortify; mortmain; mortuary; murder; murrain; nightmare; post-mortem; remorse.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit mrnati "crushes, bruises," mriyate "to kill," martave "to die," mrta- "died, dead," mrtih "death," martah "mortal man," amrta- "immortal;" Avestan miriia- "to die," miryeite "dies," Old Persian martiya- "man;" Hittite mer- "to disappear, vanish," marnu- "to make disappear;" Armenian meranim "to die;" Greek marainein "to consume, exhaust, put out, quench," marasmus "consumption," emorten "died," brotos "mortal" (hence ambrotos "immortal"); Latin mors (genitive mortis) "death," mori "to die;" Armenian merani- "to die;" Gothic maurþr, Old English morþ "murder;" Old Irish marb, Welsh marw "dead;" Lithuanian mirti "to die," mirtis "death;" Old Church Slavonic mreti "to die," mrutvu "dead;" Russian mertvyj, Serbo-Croatian mrtav "dead."
mid-14c., panten, "breathe hard or rapidly," perhaps a shortening of Old French pantaisier "gasp, puff, pant, be out of breath, be in distress" (12c.), which is probably from Vulgar Latin *pantasiare "be oppressed with a nightmare, struggle for breathing during a nightmare," literally "to have visions," from Greek phantasioun "have or form images, subject to hallucinations," from phantasia "appearance, image, fantasy" (from PIE root *bha- (1) "to shine"). Related: Panted; panting.
"characteristic or suggestive of the writings of George Orwell," 1950 (first attested in Mary McCarthy), from English author George Orwell (pseudonym of Eric Blair, 1903-1950), especially in reference to his novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four" (1949). It has come to be used in reference to the totalitarian systems he satirized and inveighed against.
It is as if George Orwell had conceived the nightmare instead of analyzed it, helped to create it instead of helping to dispel its euphemistic thrall. [Clive James, "The All of Orwell," 2001]
The surname is attested from late Old English, from place names, either "spring by the point" (of land), or "stream of the (river) Orwe," a variant form ofarrow.