There, I’ve said it. First time on the web. At least, when I googled it a couple of minutes ago there were no hits.—No hits?!—This has been my favourite word of all times for some time now. My favourite word isn’t on the web? Crazy.

So what does “ontoleptic” mean, I hear you say.—Let’s look it up. (You can probably find it in The Dictionary of Fictionary Words… Let’s see… Ah! Here it is!)

ontoleptic [adj]
of, or relating to, or characteristic of, a confusion in levels of reality or existance

Why do I like this word? Well…it’s unusal. I like unusual words, unusual language. (Maybe that’s why my other web page is on Klingon?) But also, “ontoleptic” is a useful word, descriptive—not least—of some of my common morning thoughts: “Am I still in bed sleeping, dreaming of going to work?—Or am I actually on my way to work, dreaming about sleeping?”

The most common ontoleptic story involves some confusion as to in which reality it takes place at a given moment (eXistenZ), or it is discovered that the actual reality turns out to be a different sort of place than was previusly believed (The Thirteenth Floor). My favourite on this theme is probably eXistenZ—no matter how meticulously one follows how the plot jumps back and forth between the levels of realities there just is no way to anticipate that! (Or maybe I was just naïve when I watched it for the first time?) This one is also very clear-cut when it comes to ontoleptic movies. If there ever is a such a category of movies, then eXistenZ belongs to it, no doubt about that.

There is also another kind of ontoleptic movies, one of a more personal kind, in which a person has doubts about his or her reality or existance but in which the reality itself seem constant for most of the people. Stranger Than Fiction and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind belongs to this category. And maybe even Groundhog Day?

Let me give you a little list of movies (and other stories) to help further clarify the idea of ontolepsia:

A Little List

1968Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are DeadBoth a play and a movie.
1987The New York TrilogyBy Paul Auster.
1990Star Trek TNG: “Remember Me”
1990Total Recall
1991Naked Lunch
1993Groundhog Day
1997The GameMichael Douglas (not Neil Strauss).
1998Dark CityStylish settings, but no favourite of mine.
1998Sliding Doors
1999Being John Malkovich
1999MatrixFirst movie was a bit ontoleptic to start off with, then not so much.
1999The Thirteenth Floor
2001ImpostorHey, is it ontoleptic to doubt the existance of oneself?
2001AvalonThe Japanese-Polish movie, not the Arthur-saga-thingy.
2002Buffy Episode: “Normal Again”
2004Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2004PrimerCounting timelines as realities.
2006Science of Sleep
2006Stranger Than Fiction
2010Shutter Island
2011Source Code

…And there are probably a thousand more. If you have any you wish to have included here, you can send an email to me.


I didn’t come up with the word myself, but I’m no longer sure who gave it to me. The etymology of it, however, isn’t that difficult to see:

Similar Words

Since this word isn't widely recognized (or googlable) yet, here are some related words to catch those googlings:

Ontolepsia (being in an ontoleptic state).

And lastly the Swedish versions of the words: Ontoleptisk, ontolepsi, and the related word “verklighetsläckage” (“seepage of realities”).

By zrajm in Uppsala 2009–2015 (License: CC BY–SA)