What Does Wild Goose Chase Mean?

Wild Goose Chase Meaning

Definition: A long search in which nothing is found.

Although this phrase is usually used specifically in instances when someone is looking for something and can’t find it, it can also be used for other types of futile efforts.

Origin of Wild Goose Chase

This idiom is one of many that originated with Shakespeare. The very famous and historic English playwright first used this phrase in one of his most well-known plays, Romeo and Juliet.

on a wild goose chase meaningIn this play, Romeo says,

  • “Switch and spurs, switch and spurs; or I’ll cry a match.”

Mercutio replies,

  • “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.”

Romeo is comparing their conversation to an old type of horse race, which was called “Wild Goose Chase.” In this horse race, many horses followed one lead horse, much like geese flying in a V shape.

However, nowadays, most people imagine how difficult it would be to catch a flying goose. You might chase it for a very long time, and for a great distance, but you wouldn’t be able to catch it. All your effort would be for nothing.

Examples of Wild Goose Chase

idiom origins goose chaseThis expression is most commonly used when someone did not achieve what he or she set out to do, usually in terms of a hunt, a search, or to discourage someone from making an unwise action that will never be accomplished.

Here is an example of the phrase being used by a mother and daughter.

Mother: Could you find your car keys?

Daughter: No, I looked everywhere. I checked my room, the living room, the kitchen, and I even went to the neighbor’s house and the park to see if I had dropped them there. After looking for hours, I finally realized it was a wild goose chase. Those keys are lost forever.

Here is another example, in which two friends discuss their future plans.

  • Lily: I really think you should keep writing, if your dream is to be a writer.
  • Misty: Nah. It would just be a wild goose chase. It could never happen. I need to be practical and pick a more realistic career.

More Examples

  • Bach and Rio 2016 organizers should send Lochte a thank-you note for the wild goose chase he led police, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the media on, taking away the focus on the Games and Paralympic financial crisis. –OC Register
  • Prosecutors call the quest for juror data “a wild goose chase,” and another example of Judge Case overstepping his legal authority. –Houston Chronicle


A wild goose chase is a good expression to use when talking about a long search or pursuit that was unsuccessful or impossible.