Wild Goose Chase

Meaning of Idiom ‘Wild Goose Chase’

A wild goose chase is a pointless, foolish and futile search or pursuit that is bound to result in failure. 1Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.,2Spears, Richard A. McGraw-Hill’s American Idioms Dictionary. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008.,3Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.

Examples Of Use

“The informant sent the police on a wild goose chase, checking abandoned buildings for their suspect after he had fled the country.”

“This is a wild goose chase,” said Dad. “We’ll never find this toy on Christmas Eve. It’s sold out everywhere.”

“He hunted for the treasure for twenty years despite everyone telling him it was a wild goose chase.”

Origin

Used since around 1600.

This idiom originally referred to a type of horse racing in which riders were meant to follow a leader in a certain formation at exact intervals that supposedly resembled a flock of wild geese in flight. 4Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. The expression was later applied to someone taking an erratic and unusual path and another person following them. 5Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.

The expression was used in Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet:

Mercutio to Romeo: “Nay, if our wits run the wild-goose chase, I am done, for thou hast more of the wild-goose in one of they wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five. Was I with you there for the goose?”

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Sources   [ + ]

1, 4. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
2. Spears, Richard A. McGraw-Hill’s American Idioms Dictionary. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008.
3, 5. Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.