wild-goose chase

A tedious uncertain pursuit, like the following a flock of wild geese, who are remarkably shy.

The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

The spoil sport in the group often describes your new and exciting (quite possibly even profitable) venture in this way. You of course ignore the mealy mouth objection in the hopes that this gander will lay a golden egg.

The idiom wild goose chase is so common that it needs no explanation. Anyone can of course tell you how "following a flock of wild geese, who are remarkably shy" is just like pursuing cold fusion in a laboratory. Anyone, in this case, may want to consider abandoning such flock mentality.

Let's ask an authority on the matter. "Bill, what exactly is your opinion on the origin of wild goose chase?

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:
was I with you there for the goose?

Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene IV

Thanks, Bill, but that isn't exactly modern English. Let's turn to a bit of history.

A wild goose chase was a game played briefly in Shakespeare's time in which a leading horse with rider took off to be followed by other riders. The leader chose the often erratic course, and the followers at set distances were said to resemble the V-line of geese in flight. However, the geese-in-flight comparison is largely conjecture, and it may be that the name resulted simply from comparing the game to attempts of capturing a wild goose.

The horseriding game is usually ignored when origins of the phrase are described. In 1755 Dr. Samuel Johnson defined our modern usage as, "A pursuit of something as unlikely to be caught as a wild goose."2 Even with all the imagery, it still doesn't have as much animal magnetism as the beast with two backs.

See more phrases Shakespeare invented...

1 www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/wild-goose-chase.html
2 2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings & Expressions from White Elephants to Song Dance Charles Earle Funk

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