“Cloud-cuckoo-land” is a realm of fantasy or an unrealistically ideal state where everything is perfect.
A person who lives in “cloud cuckoo land” is someone, like the Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, who says, “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Such a statement hints that the person referred to is seen as naive or crazy. Yet sometimes such people make very insightful comments.
Oddly, the phrase began as all one word and now is hyphenated. Most such phrases have evolved the other way round, starting as hyphenated words and ending up as one word.
The land of plenty in medieval myth, Cockaigne, is probably the predecessor to the modern day cloud-cuckoo-land. It was an imaginary place of extreme luxury and ease where physical comforts and pleasures were always immediately at hand and where the harshness of medieval peasant life did not exist.
The word was coined by Aristophanes, a Greek playwright. He wrote a drama called The Birds, first performed in 414 BC, in which Pisthetaerus, a middle-aged Athenian, persuades the world’s birds to create a new city in the sky to be named Nubicuculia or Cloud Cuckoo Land, thereby gaining control over all communications between men and gods.
The phrase, of course, has also often been used by British and American politicians. For example, Newt Gingrich referred to Barack Obama’s claim that algae could be used as a fuel source as cloud-cuckoo-land.
The phrase has been used in poetry, music, film and by many writers.
— Cloudcuckooland, a poetry collection by Simon Armitage.
— Cloudcuckooland, the first album by the Lightning Seeds, released in 1990.
Cloud Cuckoo Land was used as a stand-in for Hollywood as in Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm. Dorothy Sayers, in the Author’s Note to her novel Gaudy Night (1936), explains that the story, while set in Oxford, is entirely fictitious, concluding that “…the novelist’s only native country is Cloud-Cuckooland, where they do but jest.”
Cloud-cuckoo-land is fun to be in, for a while. But when you run out of food, somebody’s got to go to the grocery store.