Wild Goose Chase – Meaning, Origin


When someone is on a “wild goose chase,” they are pursuing something that seems to be pointless or unattainable.

Example: Simon is deep within a forest. He’s attempting to take a photograph of a rare turtle that lives there, but first he has to find it. It’s been three days, and Simon is starting to believe he’s on a wild goose chase. He’s unsure if he will ever find one.

In other words, he thinks trying to locate this rare turtle is pretty much impossible and is thus not worth the time.

Synonyms / Related Phrases:
Nothing here yet.
The Idiom Wild Goose Chase

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, 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 Sentence(s)

  • I was searching my house for a tiny screwdriver that I needed for my glasses. As I searched through every drawer imaginable, it felt like I was on a wild goose chase.
  • Jake’s laptop had a virus, so he went online looking for a solution to fix it. However, after hours of searching, this whole process seemed like a wild goose chase because no one had an answer.

Note: While this is not the case for all common phrases and sayings, when it comes to their origin, sometimes it will not be clear. In such cases, what you’ll usually see are theories or guesses that take a gander as to where the phrase may have come from, but these may not be accurate.

Additionally, the quotes that I… quote, are typically the oldest that I can find. These come from old books, poems, or newspapers, etc. Keep in mind, though, that there could be an older recording that I possibly overlooked.

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