What does the idiom "Go on a wild goose chase" mean?

The phrase Go on 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 Go on a wild goose chase.

Meaning of "Go on a wild goose chase"


The phrase “go on a wild goose chase” is an idiom used to describe a futile activity of searching for something that cannot be found or is nonexistent. It refers to a game from the 16th century, in which a group of people would ride on horseback in pursuit of a tame goose, which had been released for them to chase. It was an impossible feat, as the goose was frequently trained to fly away before the riders could catch it.


The phrase originates from the 16th-century game. The term could have been derived from the Flemish gansvlaey, which literally means “goose chase” in English, or from the French term "vol-au-vent," which means “flight of the bird.” The game of wild goose chases was popular in England during the 16th century, and by the 17th century, the phrase was being used in literature and everyday language to describe any kind of frustrating and fruitless search.


In modern English, the phrase “go on a wild goose chase” is commonly used to describe any kind of pointless endeavor. It can be used in a serious or humorous tone, often to refer to a situation where an individual or a group is wasting their time and energy looking for something that they are unlikely to find.

Example Sentences

  • I've been going on wild goose chases all morning looking for my car keys.
  • We've been on a wild goose chase for months trying to find a solution to this problem.
  • Don't waste your time on a wild goose chase - there's no way you'll find it.

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

Idioms with similar meanings in different languages

"Barking up the wrong tree" is an English idiom that means to pursue a mistaken or misguided course of action. In German, the similar idiom is "Auf dem Holzweg sein," which translates to "To be on the wrong track." This idiom emphasizes the idea that when you are pursuing the wrong course of action, you are not going to achieve your desired outcome.


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