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imagination, n.

Brit. Hear pronunciation/ᵻˌmadʒᵻˈneɪʃn/
U.S. Hear pronunciation/ᵻˌmædʒəˈneɪʃ(ə)n/
Forms:  Middle English imaginacioun, Middle English imagynacion, Middle English imagynacioun, Middle English ymaginacioun, Middle English ymaginacioune, Middle English ymaginacon, Middle English ymaginacoun, Middle English ymagination, Middle English ymagnacion, Middle English ymagynacion, Middle English ymagynacione, Middle English ymagynacioun, Middle English ymagynacyone, Middle English ymagynacyonne, Middle English ymagynacyoun, Middle English–1500s imaginacion, Middle English–1500s ymaginacion, Middle English–1500s ymagynacyon, Middle English– imagination, 1500s imagynacyon, 1500s imagynashyon, 1500s imagynation, 1500s immaginacion, 1500s immagynacion, 1500s immagynation, 1500s ymaginacyon, 1500s ymagynation, 1500s–1600s imagynatyon, 1500s–1700s immagination; Scottish pre-1700 emagination, pre-1700 imaginatioun, pre-1700 ymaginacione, pre-1700 ymaginacioun, pre-1700 ymaginacioune, pre-1700 ymagynacione, pre-1700 ymagynation, pre-1700 ymagynatyown, pre-1700 1700s– imagination. (Show Less)
Frequency (in current use):  Show frequency band information
Origin: Of multiple origins. Partly a borrowing from French. Partly a borrowing from Latin. Etymons: French imagination; Latin imāginātiōn-, imāginātiō.
Etymology: < (i) Anglo-Norman ymaginacione, ymaginacioun, ymagynation, etc., Anglo-Norman and Middle French imagination, imaginacion, ymaginacion, ymagination, etc. (French imagination  ) faculty of the mind involved in forming images or concepts, mental image (c1174 in Old French), action of scheming (1377 or earlier in Anglo-Norman), thought, reflection (c1377), assumption (a1412 or earlier in Anglo-Norman), project, plan (1495),
and its etymon (ii) classical Latin imāginātiōn-, imāginātiō action of picturing mentally, imagining, fantasy, mental image or idea, in post-classical Latin also faculty of imagination (from 8th or 9th cent. (frequently from 12th cent.) in British sources), action of contriving or plotting, scheme, plot (from 14th cent. in British sources) < imāgināt-  , past participial stem of imāginārī  , imāgināre  imagine v.   + -iō  -ion suffix1.
Compare Catalan imaginació (second half of the 13th cent.), Spanish imaginación (early 14th cent.), Portuguese imaginação (14th cent.), Italian immaginazione (a1294 as imaginazione).

 a. The power or capacity to form internal images or ideas of objects and situations not actually present to the senses, including remembered objects and situations, and those constructed by mentally combining or projecting images of previously experienced qualities, objects, and situations. Also (esp. in modern philosophy): the power or capacity by which the mind integrates sensory data in the process of perception.

1340   Ayenbite (1866) 158   Oþerhuil hit is ase to þe þoȝte, oþer ase to þe ymaginacion.
a1398   J. Trevisa tr. Bartholomaeus Anglicus De Proprietatibus Rerum (BL Add. 27944) (1975) I. iii. vi. 95   Þe þridde hatte ymaginacioun, þerby þe soule biholdeþ þe liknes of bodiliche þinges þat beþ absent.
1485   W. Caxton tr. Thystorye & Lyf Charles the Grete sig. aij/1   The comune vnderstondyng is better content to the ymagynacion local.
?1541   R. Copland Guy de Chauliac's Questyonary Cyrurgyens ii. sig. Ejv   In the fyrste parte of the ventricle before is put ye common blode. In the seconde ye vertue of ymagynacyon.
1673   E. Stillingfleet Serm. xii. 225   I would fain understand how men ever came to be abused with the notion of Religion,..if there were not some faculties in them above those of sense and imagination?
1751   J. Harris Hermes iii. iv. 354   We have..a Faculty, called Imagination or Fancy..which retains the fleeting Forms of things, when Things themselves are gone, and all Sensation at an end.
1840   J. S. Mill Bentham in Diss. & Disc. (1859) I. 353   The Imagination..to which the name is generally appropriated by the best writers of the present day [is] that which enables us, by a voluntary effort, to conceive the absent as if it were present.
1881   F. M. Müller tr. I. Kant Critique Pure Reason II. 89   Without this the faculty of empirical imagination would never find anything to do that it is able to do, and remain therefore buried within our mind.
1944   G. F. Thomas Vitality of Christian Trad. ii. ix. 259   Evidence from the senses, imagination, revelation, or any other source which did not fit consistently into such a system was simply rejected or explained away.
2000   T. Eagleton Idea of Culture ii. 45   The imagination is the faculty by which one can empathize with others—by which, for example, you can feel your way into the unknown territory of another culture.

1340—2000(Hide quotations)


 b. An inner image or idea of an object or objects not actually present to the senses; often with the implication that the idea does not correspond to the reality of things. Also: †the action or an act of forming such an image or idea (obsolete).

1340   Ayenbite (1866) 47 (MED)   Þe gost of fornicacion..makeþ uerst come þe þoȝtes and þe likinges and þe ymaginacions of zenne to herte.
c1400  (c1378)    W. Langland Piers Plowman (Laud 581) (1869) B. xx. l. 33 (MED)   Wenynge is no wysdome ne wyse ymagynacioun.
a1475   J. Fortescue Governance of Eng. (Laud) (1885) 128 (MED)   We nede in this case to vse coniecture and ymaginacion.
a1500  (c1340)    R. Rolle Psalter (Univ. Oxf. 64) (1884) xxxvii. 7   Þe fende..tourmentis my body and trauails my saule in vayn ymagynaciouns.
1530   Myroure Oure Ladye (Fawkes) (1873) i. 41   Anon ymaginacions of the same thynges come to his mynde.
1576   A. Fleming tr. Solon in Panoplie Epist. 193   They..accounted his undoubted divinations, madde immaginations.
1690   J. Locke Ess. Humane Understanding iii. v. 206   When we speak of Justice, or Gratitude, we frame to our selves no Imagination of any thing existing.
1761   D. Hume Hist. Eng. III. xlv. 8 (note)    Could such an imagination ever have been entertained by him?
1829   J. Mill Anal. Human Mind (1869) I. vii. 239   I am said to have an imagination when I have a train of ideas.
1896   Duke of Argyll Philos. Belief 223   The truths which they proclaimed were facts and not imaginations.
1924   P. Grainger Let. in All-round Man (1994) 68   The island seems to a Gauguinite like the imaginations of that great genius come to life & living on after his time.
2002   S. Rasegård Man & Sci. iv. 65   The individual..is able to form symbols to give durable expressions of his thoughts—thoughts which can form imaginations that anything can continue even when the earthly life-span has come to an end.

1340—2002(Hide quotations)


 2. The mind considered as engaged in imagining; a person's mind, or a part of it, represented as the place where images, ideas, and thoughts are produced and stored, or in which they are contained. Formerly also: †the inner operations of the mind in general, thinking; thought, opinion (obsolete).

a1393   J. Gower Confessio Amantis (Fairf.) viii. l. 850   Now is sche red, nou is sche pale Riht after the condicion Of hire ymaginacion.
c1450  (c1380)    G. Chaucer House of Fame (Fairf. 16) (1878) l. 728   I wille Tellen the a propre skille And worthe a demonstracion In myn ymagynacion.
c1500   Three Kings' Sons (1895) 138   The kynge..in his ymaginacion thought to make a grete assaute vpone the Turkes loggyng.
1548   Hall's Vnion: Edward IV f. ccxxxixv   Coniectures, which as often deceyve the imaginacions of fantastical folke.
a1616   W. Shakespeare All's Well that ends Well (1623) i. i. 81   I haue forgott him. My imagination Carries no fauour in't but Bertrams.  View more context for this quotation
1632   J. Hayward tr. G. F. Biondi Eromena 12   That neither she..nor others..came thereby to lose or gaine in the imagination of others.
1662   J. Davies tr. A. Olearius Voy. & Trav. Ambassadors 181   Upon the first sight thereof, it run into our imagination, that they were the Cosaques.
1706   S. Centlivre Love at Venture i. 9   The elegance of my Fabrick, has Titulated the Imagination of many a fine Lady.
1797   A. Radcliffe Italian I. i. 6   The beauty of her countenance haunting his imagination.
1828   W. Irving Life C. Columbus II. vii. ii. 167   An ardent desire to see the home of these wonderful strangers, which his imagination pictured as a region of celestial delights.
1860   All Year Round 14 June 235/2   Those persons who complain of the opprobrious epithets with which they are accosted by parrots..are simply the victims of their own morbid imagination.
1912   F. W. Hackwood W. Hone ii. 54   This work was then publishing in sixpenny numbers... It caught my imagination.
1949   ‘G. Orwell’ Nineteen Eighty-four ii. v. 154   Such a thing as an independent political movement was outside her imagination.
1980   E. Wheat Love Life for Every Married Couple vii. 89   Both husband and wife must use their imagination to fall in love, renew romantic love, or keep alive the eros love they now have.
2007   Metro (Toronto) 14 Feb. (Metro Carguide) 6/4   The so-called Pony Cars..captured the imaginations of young and old alike.

a1393—2007(Hide quotations)

3. The mental consideration of future or potential actions or events.

 a. The scheming or devising of something; a plan, scheme, plot; a fanciful project. Obsolete.

a1393   J. Gower Confessio Amantis (Fairf.) ii. 2845 (MED)   Outward he doth the reverence, Bot al withinne his conscience Thurgh fals ymaginacioun He thoghte Supplantacioun.
?a1425  (c1400)    Mandeville's Trav. (Titus C.xvi) (1919) 166 (MED)   All here lust & all hire ymaginacioun is for to putten all londes vnder hire subieccioun.
c1430  (c1386)    G. Chaucer Legend Good Women (Cambr. Gg.4.27) (1879) l. 1523   With-outen any othir affeccioun Of loue or euyl ymagynacyoun.
1535   Bible (Coverdale) Lament. iii. 60   Thou hast herde their despytefull wordes (O Lorde) yee and all their ymaginacions agaynst me.
1548   Hall's Vnion: Richard III f. xlvijv   That mischeuous ymaginacion whiche he nowe newely beganne and attempted.
1660   Exact Accompt Trial Regicides 9   In no Case else Imagination, or Compassing, without an actual effect of it, was punishable by our Law.
1671   H. Herbert Narrative in Camden Misc. (1990) XXX. 294   He rides post through all the imaginations of this world.
1709   J. Swift Project Advancem. Relig. 57   These airy Imaginations of introducing new Laws for the Amendment of Mankind.
1769   H. Brooke Fool of Quality IV. xvii. 132   Any imagination..tending to change the nature or form of any one of the three estates.
1801   J. Hey Disc. on Malevolent Sentiments vii. 189   If we find that a man is nourishing hostile imaginations against us, it seems as if we ought not to confine ourselves to satisfying our own consciences.

a1393—1801(Hide quotations)


 b. A person's impression as to what is likely; expectation, anticipation. Obsolete.

1582   G. Whetstone Heptameron Ciuill Disc. v. sig. Q.ii   The ymagination, that time wil inuest his desire wt delight, is to the Affected, a Paradice.
1623   J. Bingham tr. Xenophon Hist. 29   As soone as it was day, all set forward..imagining that by sun-set they should reach to Villages of the Babylonian Territorie. Neither were they deceiued in their imagination.
1628   T. Hobbes tr. Thucydides Peloponnesian War (1822) 106   The sickness—the only thing that exceeded the imagination of all men.
1654   A. Marvell Let. 2 June in Poems & Lett. (1971) II. 305   To tell you truly mine own Imagination, I thought He would not open it while I was there.

1582—1654(Hide quotations)


 4. The tendency to form ideas which do not correspond to reality; the operation of fanciful, erroneous, or deluded thought. Also: an individual's fanciful erroneous, or deluded thinking.

a1393   J. Gower Confessio Amantis (Fairf.) vii. l. 410   Full of ymaginacion, Of dredes, and of wrathful thoghtes.
c1405  (c1390)    G. Chaucer Miller's Tale (Hengwrt) (2003) l. 426   Men may dyen of ymaginacion So depe may imperssion be take.
c1500  (?a1437)    Kingis Quair (1939) xii (MED)   This is myn awin ymagynacioun; It is no lyf that spekis unto me.
1574   T. Tymme tr. J. de Serres Three Partes Comm. Ciuill Warres Fraunce iii. 254   By this word (Substance) was not ment a corporall and grosse eating, but that the spirituall and true eating was discerned from that which was by imagination and phansie.
a1616   W. Shakespeare Twelfth Night (1623) ii. v. 40   Looke how imagination blowes him.  View more context for this quotation
a1650   G. Boate Irelands Nat. Hist. (1652) ix. 75   As if in very deed he had..seen and suffered all those things, which his weak imagination..did figure unto him.
1711   R. Steele Spectator No. 136. ⁋2   My Imagination runs away with me.
1834   T. Medwin Angler in Wales I. 275   And I fancied, though it might be imagination, that her's trembled too.
1904   F. Rolfe Hadrian VII Prooimion 52   Vague thoughts ensued from these incidents; thoughts not connected with her but with some sensuous idea, some phasma of my imagination.
1960   A. R. MacAndrew tr. N. Gogol Diary of Madman & Other Stories (1961) 35   Maybe it's just imagination. How could I possibly have lost my nose so stupidly?
2007   51st London Film Festival (British Film Institute programme) 63/2   A process is started that will begin to unlock her true strength and ability by reining in her imagination and facing up to the reality of her position.

a1393—2007(Hide quotations)


 5. The mind's creativity and resourcefulness in using and inventing images, analogies, etc.; poetic or artistic genius or talent. Also: an individual's poetic or artistic genius or talent.

1509   S. Hawes Pastime of Pleasure (1928) xiv. 55   Upon his ymagynacyon He made also the tales of Caunterbury.
1600   W. Shakespeare Midsummer Night's Dream v. i. 14   And as Imagination bodies forth the formes of things Vnknowne: the Poets penne turnes them to shapes, And giues to ayery nothing, a locall habitation, And a name.  View more context for this quotation
1657   R. Ligon True Hist. Barbados 19   Nor can imagination frame so great a beauty.
1762   Ld. Kames Elements Crit. III. App. 386   This singular power of fabricating images independent of real objects, is distinguished by the name imagination.
a1834   S. T. Coleridge Biogr. Lit. (1847) I. ii. 298 (note)    Compare this distinction [sc. between the Primary and Secondary Imagination] with that of the Productive and Reproductive Imagination given in the section on the Transcendental Synthesis of the Imagination..in the Kritik der reinen Vernunft [by Kant].
1848   J. Ruskin Mod. Painters (ed. 2) II. ii. iii. 132   This is imagination, properly so called; imagination associative, the grandest mechanical power that the Human intelligence possesses.
1871   C. Darwin Descent of Man I. ii. 45   The Imagination is one of the highest prerogatives of man. By this faculty he unites, independently of the will, former images and ideas, and thus creates brilliant and novel results.
1910   H. Walker Lit. Victorian Era ii. iii. 340   Newman had a reach of thought and a boldness of imagination which none of the other Catholic poets could rival.
1940   A. Noyes Pageant of Lett. 319   She moves in the higher realms of the creative imagination.
2006   Orion Nov. 1/1   You can witness such imagination at work in the writings of Lynn Margulis, who codeveloped, with James Lovelock, the Gaia theory.

1509—2006(Hide quotations)



 C1. General attributive.

  imagination-consciousness   n.

1901   E. B. Titchener Exper. Psychol. I. i. 1   An imagination-consciousness, our mind as it is when we are imagining something.
1991   E. T. H. Brann World of Imagination iv. 126   He [sc. Husserl] is saying that imagination-consciousness comes about when the question of existence is set aside from memory in general.

1901—1991(Hide quotations)


  imagination-game   n.

1926   E. Bowen Ann Lee's 53   But the imagination-game palled upon him.

1926—1926(Hide quotations)


  imagination image   n.

1890   W. James Princ. Psychol. II. xviii. 50   Imagination-images..feel subject to our spontaneity [etc.].
1999   Jrnl. Marketing Res. 36 20/1   An imagination image differs from a memory image in that..a new, never-before-experienced event is constructed.

1890—1999(Hide quotations)


  imagination-mill   n.

1899   ‘M. Twain’ in Harper's Mag. Dec. 40/1   His imagination-mill was hard at work in a minute.
2002   B. C. Johnson Hearing God's Call viii. 124   Each achievement in a ministry manifests a type of growth, and this growth provides grist for the imagination mill.

1899—2002(Hide quotations)


  imagination-monger   n.

1889   Pall Mall Gaz. 28 June 3/2   To the exclusion of other industrious imagination-mongers.
1928   Amer. Med. 34 691/1   Medical nihilists, drugless healers, and imagination mongers, after a long time inning have proven the futility of their propaganda.

1889—1928(Hide quotations)


  imagination process   n.

1890   W. James Princ. Psychol. II. xviii. 72   The imagination-process can then pass over into the sensation-process. In other words, genuine sensations can be centrally originated.
1997   M. D. Selekman Solution-focused Therapy with Children v. 114   I try to avoid giving the family any ideas, leaving the imagination process up to them.

1890—1997(Hide quotations)


  imagination world   n.

1904   Daily Chron. 19 Oct. 8/1   This glimpse into the imagination-world of London.
1994   E. Bond Let. 18 May (1998) IV. 50   I call my theatre a ‘rational theatre’ because I think the imagination seeks reason to restructure itself or at least can do so. Freud understood some of these problems, he understood the importance of the ‘imagination world’.

1904—1994(Hide quotations)

 C2. Objective.

  imagination-liberating adj.

1933   R. Tuve Seasons & Months i. 28   It was not the imagination-liberating concept of Nature.
2001   A. Shanks What is Truth? 152   Blake the prophet focuses on forgiveness as the imagination-liberating opposite of oppression by the powerful.

1933—2001(Hide quotations)


  imagination-stirring adj.

1933   D. Jones in C. J. Sisson T. Lodge & Other Elizabethans 253   But the line, especially with that imagination-stirring word ‘kingdome’, was well calculated to set Milton's imagination..a-roving.
2004   B. Pester Through Land of Fire ii. 150   A small sailing vessel..with the imagination-stirring name of Fortunato Bevan.

1933—2004(Hide quotations)


imagination-stunning adj. Obsolete

1892   ‘M. Twain’ Amer. Claimant x. 88   The imagination-stunning material development of this century.

1892—1892(Hide quotations)

 C3. Instrumental.

  imagination-manufactured adj.

1902   ‘M. Twain’ in N. Amer. Rev. Dec. 768   The [Christian] Science..secures to him life-long immunity from imagination-manufactured disease.

1902—1902(Hide quotations)