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

The expression Go on a wild goose chase is one of the idioms that often finds a place in our literature and enriches our language. However, its meaning is not fully understood, so it is sometimes used in the wrong situations. Please review the explanation carefully for the correct use of the Go on a wild goose chase idiom.

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

The Global Spread of English Idioms

As English has become a global language, its idioms have spread far beyond the borders of the UK and USA. For instance, the idiom "beat around the bush" has equivalents in many other languages, such as "tourner autour du pot" in French and "dar vueltas al asunto" in Spanish. Meanwhile, other idioms have been adapted for local contexts, such as the Russian idiom "?? ???? ???????" (ne svoya rubashka), which translates to "not one's own shirt," meaning to be in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar situation.


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