I’ve been wandering about much of the day in a stuporous state brought on by the dank, muggy weather, and I’ve just learned the perfect word for it thanks to an article by Betty Kirkpatrick (former editor of the Chambers dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus) at The Caledonian Mercury:
Many Scots words are so fit for purpose, as they say in modern parlance, that it is difficult to find an adequate English translation for them. Such a word is dwam, usually to be found in the phrase “in a dwam”.
Dwam in this sense is often translated as daydream but this strikes me as a bit too poetic for dwam and not accurate enough. A daydream suggests, and is often defined as such, pleasant thoughts and fantasies indulged in while awake.
Dwam does not suggest anything so creative. […] When you are in a dwam you may be thinking about something, not necessarily something pleasant, other than the subject in hand. However, you are just as likely to be thinking about nothing at all.
The other translation frequently given for dwam is stupor, but this is often defined as a state of near-unconsciousness and a dwam in the sense I am thinking of is nowhere as deep-seated as that. Furthermore, dictionaries frequently indicate that a stupor is often brought on by drugs or alcohol. Not so dwam. It does not necessarily have any connection with illegal substances, although the odd dram-induced dwam is not unknown.
Dwam, with the alternative spellings dwalm and dwaum, when it first came into being, was used to refer to a physical condition. Germanic in origin, it has associations with Old English dwolma, a state of confusion. As a verb it meant to faint or swoon or to become suddenly ill. It also meant to decline in health. As a noun it meant a fainting fit or a sudden attack of illness. […] “In a state of abstraction” is quite apt but it is a bit of a mouthful. “Staring into space” and “lost in thought” both cover the situation quite well, but are not as concise nor as graphic as be in a dwam.
(I’ve added italics for clarity; there are none at the linked page.) Here‘s the DSL entry, for those who want more;
there’s no OED entry, so it’s pure Scots it’s in the OED under dwalm (see below). Thanks, Eric!