Wild Goose Chase – Meaning, Origin


When someone is on a ‘wild goose chase,’ they are pursuing something that is difficult to find or obtain to the point that it feels like a waste of time and/or pointless.

Example: Simon is looking for a rare insect that resides in the forest. Over the week, he has searched high and low for it, but he hasn’t found anything yet. He’s starting to think he’s on a wild goose chase.

Synonyms / Similar Phrases:

1. A waste of time
2. Look for a needle in a haystack

The Idiom Wild Goose Chase

The Origin Of ‘Wild Goose Chase’

It’s believed that this phrase’s origin is rooted in some type of 16th century horse racing. Apparently, back then, a ‘wild goose chase’ was a horse race in which the lead rider would be pursued by other riders, which is said to be similar to how geese flying in a formation will follow the one in the lead. However, the rules and details of this sort of race don’t seem to be very clear; the opinions on it vary.

This phrase was used in a figurative way by William Shakespeare in the play Romeo and Juliet, which is believed to have been written in 1594 or 1595:

“Nay, if thy wits run the wild-goose chase, I have done, for thou hast more of the wild-goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five: was I with you there for the goose?”

Tip: Want to see more phrases? Check out our list of sayings starting with “W” for more like this one. Alternatively, use the menu at the top to find hundreds of expressions. It’s easy, give it a try!

Example Sentences

  • He spent hours on a wild goose chase, traveling to numerous grocery stores as he searched for an old snack that had been discontinued.
  • I was searching everywhere in my house for a tiny screwdriver, but it was nowhere to be seen. It felt like I was on a wild goose chase.

Similar Examples:

  • Trying to find your missing contact lenses on this beach is a waste of time; it would be easier to just order another pair.
  • I’m looking for an email that was sent to me months ago, but I’m looking for a needle in a haystack at this point.

Note: While this is not the case for all common phrases and sayings, sometimes their origin is unclear. In such cases, what you’ll usually see on the page are theories that talk about how the phrase may have originated.

Additionally, the quotes on the page are typically the oldest usage of the phrase that I can find or have seen. It is possible that older citations exist than what is listed on here.

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