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10 Mar. What are the origins of the English expression “a wild goose chase?”

The English idiom “a wild goose chase” is commonly used in a metaphorical sense and does not, as one may initially imagine, relate to geese or animals in any way whatsoever.


The idiom is used to denote a search or quest for something which is hopeless. It is commonly used to suggest that something is likely to be fruitless and that there is little point in undertaking it.


This phrase was first coined in Shakespearean language and the first recorded usage can be found in the 1592 play Romeo and Juliet when Mercutio proclaims “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.”

It is widely agreed that the idea behind the expression derives from the fact that geese are notoriously difficult to chase. Thus the idea of “a wild goose chase” alludes to the fact that the search will be extremely difficult and most likely doomed to fail.


An example of the usage of this expression can be found in a quote by the American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne. He is quoted to have said “happiness in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally. Make it the object of pursuit, and it leads us a wild-goose chase, and is never attained. Follow some other object, and very possibly we may find that we have caught happiness without dreaming of it.”

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