April 27, 2007

Word of the Day > Word of the Day: Wild Goose Chase

Wow. That phrase didn't originally mean anything like what we think of today. From Gary Martin's Phrase of the Week:

Our current use of the phrase alludes to an undertaking which will probably prove to be fruitless - clearly wild geese are difficult to catch. Our understanding of the term differs from that in use in Shakespeare's day. The earlier meaning related not to hunting but to horse racing. A 'wild goose chase' was a chase in which horses followed a lead horse at a set distance, mimicking wild geese flying in formation. The equine connection was referred to in another early citation, just ten years after Shakespeare - Nicholas Breton's The Mother's Blessing, 1602:

"Esteeme a horse, according to his pace, But loose no wagers on a wilde goose chase."

That meaning had been lost by the 19th century. In Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811, he defines the term much the way we do today:

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

Previous WOTD - Floordrobe

Posted by lesjones | TrackBack


A steeplechase, which nowadays is a formal track event the equine analog of moto-cross was originally "See that steeple on the horizon? Bet you I can get to that church before you do."

Posted by: triticale at April 27, 2007
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