from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
- n. A futile pursuit or search.
from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
- n. A futile search, a fruitless errand; a useless and often lengthy pursuit.
- n. A task whose execution is inordinately complex relative to the value of the outcome.
from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.
- n. the fruitless pursuit of something unattainable
Early recorded use refers to a type of 16th century horse race where everyone had to try to follow the erratic course of the lead horse, like wild geese have to follow their leader in formation. Mentioned in the William Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, scene 4 by the character Mercutio: "Nay, if our wits run the wild-goose chase, I am done; for thou hast more of the wild goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five." [[w:Mentioned in Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (1621). Common use in the current may be the origin for the sport sense. (Wiktionary)