from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.
- noun A futile pursuit or search.
from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.
- noun figuratively A
futile search, a fruitless errand; a uselessand often lengthy pursuit.
- noun 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.
- noun the fruitless pursuit of something unattainable
from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
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.
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