What Does Fool’s Errand Mean?

Fool’s Errand Meaning

Definition: A pointless task.

Origin of Fool’s Errand

This expression dates back to the 1700s. However, a similar expression, a sleeveless errand, existed with the same meaning before that.

It comes from the meaning of fool, a gullible person, and errand, a task.

Sometimes, experienced people at a job will send new people on a fool’s errand as a joke, or as a means of initiating them. Other times, someone will send another on a fool’s errand as a way to distract him or her.

If you are pursuing a goal or objective with no end in sight or without a worthwhile return, you might be engaging in a fool’s errand.

Examples of Fool’s Errand

meaning of a fools errandIn the conversation below, two friends are getting ready to start their freshman year at college.

Scott: I’m so excited to start college! Think of all the new people we’re going to meet.

Tony: Yeah, but we have to remember to be careful. Sometimes the older students like to play pranks on the new students.

Scott: Really? What kind of pranks?

Tony: For example, they’ll send a new student on some type of fool’s errand. They’ll tell the freshman to go buy some striped paint.

Scott: Ah, I see. I’m not worried about that.

define fools errandTwo coworkers use the expression while talking during an end-of-the-year party.

Richard: I’m sorry; I couldn’t find you the blueberry flavored Budweiser that you wanted.

Miranda: Haha, that’s because it doesn’t exist!

Richard: What? Are you serious? Why would you tell me to look for something that doesn’t exist? I was just trying to be nice to you and you sent me on a fool’s errand. Miranda: I honestly thought that you would realize it wasn’t a real beer. Sorry!

Richard: That’s okay.

More Examples

The first example is about how pointless it is to believe advertising, especially for a particular movie.

  • Looking for truth in advertising in Hollywood publicity is by definition a fool’s errand, but even by the dubious standards of the industry promoting “Fifty Shades Darker” with the line “Every Fairy Tale Has a Dark Side” is something of a stretch. –LA Times

The second example is about popular movies at a film festival. The author believes it is impossible to predict what makes a successful film.

  • What does it take to create a Sundance Film Festival sensation? The alchemy depends on such a specific and unpredictable combination of factors — the buzz, the talent, the mood of the industry and, yes, the quality of the movie — that it’s a fool’s errand to try to replicate them. –LA Times

Summary

The phrase a fool’s errand is an undertaking that is doomed to failure because it is impossible or frivolous in its nature.