What does the idiom "a wild-goose chase" mean?

The phrase a wild-goose chase is often used in English, but what does this idiom mean? When idioms are used in the right situations, they strengthen communication and enrich the language. You can communicate more effectively by learning the meaning of a wild-goose chase.

Meaning of "a wild-goose chase"


The idiom 'a wild-goose chase' describes an action or activity as being fruitless, futile or pointless; in other words, it is an endeavor that has no chance of success. It can also be used to describe a situation in which one is trying fruitlessly to achieve something that is unattainable or nonexistent. In some cases, the phrase may also be used to describe a situation that is chaotic and unpredictable due to its complexity or lack of direction.


The origin of the phrase 'a wild-goose chase' is derived from the hunting of wild geese. In the 16th-century, hunters would form a circle to surround and capture the birds, with the leader of the expedition riding ahead to drive the geese into the waiting arms of the hunters. This type of hunt was often considered difficult and unpredictable due to the flight patterns of the geese and their ability to escape the hunters. It was also seen as a fruitless endeavor, as often times the hunters would return empty-handed.


The idiom 'a wild-goose chase' is used to describe a futile, time-consuming and often chaotic effort that leads to no result. It is commonly used in everyday language to describe an activity that is thought to be a waste of time or resources. It is also used to describe activities that may appear promising but ultimately fail to yield any tangible results. For example, one might describe a fruitless job search as 'a wild-goose chase'.

Example Sentences

  • He spent months searching for the missing documents, but it was a wild-goose chase.
  • Trying to make sense of the evidence was like a wild-goose chase.
  • He realized he was on a wild-goose chase when the clues all led to dead ends.
  • Following up on every lead was an exhausting wild-goose chase.

The meanings of the words in the "a wild-goose chase" idiom

The Surprising Origins of Everyday English Idioms

Many English idioms have surprisingly dark origins, often rooted in violence, death, and superstition. For instance, the phrase "raining cats and dogs" is said to have originated in the 17th century, when heavy rain would often cause dead animals to wash up on the streets. Meanwhile, the idiom "rule of thumb" is believed to have originated from a law that allowed men to beat their wives with a stick no thicker than their thumb.


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