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A discussion on the Arqade sister site brought up an interesting question that I thought I'd share here.

What is the difference between a quest and a mission? Given the roots of the words, quest from the latin quaerere (to ask/seek), and mission from the latin mittere (to send).

It seems that you go to seek something on a quest, and a mission is something you are sent on.

So, if someone sends you on a quest, does it now become a mission? (i.e. Can you be sent on a quest?)

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60,000 written instances of "sent on a quest" would suggest you're reading too much into the implications of the etymologies here. – FumbleFingers Mar 15 '14 at 19:30
@FumbleFingers What was the phrase you coined: Asking the Dancing Wu-Li Masters ... Someone asked me, and I thought the answer was "they're fairly interchangeable", but I didn't wish to pontificate without basis. (I was confused by the new emotion.) – David M Mar 15 '14 at 19:32
up vote 7 down vote accepted

If you want to be pedantic:

  • A quest is where you set out to find something. King Arthur sent his knights out on a quest to find the holy grail.

  • A mission is where you set out to do something. King Arthur also sent a few knights out a mission to slay a dragon.

The difference had blurred over time, though. It would not be improper to draw a modern distinction as a mission being a secular assignment, whereas a quest is a spiritual journey.

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Well, except for religious missions. And the Blues Brothers. – Bradd Szonye Mar 15 '14 at 21:01
mmm ... If you want to be really pedantic, you may undertake a quest either to find some thing or to achieve some feat on your own, but on a mission you are sent out to find some thing or achieve some feat. All missions are quests, but only some quests are missions. – StoneyB Mar 15 '14 at 21:09
like I said, it's a fuzzy distinction. – DougM Mar 15 '14 at 21:28

If you are sent out to seek, isn't it both a mission and a quest?

Quoting Captain Kirk:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

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That was my thought, but someone asked me, and I decided to open the idea on here. – David M Mar 15 '14 at 19:31
You can tell them what two experts and Captain Kirk said. You don't have to name the experts. – Canis Lupus Mar 15 '14 at 19:32
I think he's dead @Jim – David M Mar 15 '14 at 19:34

I think that they are basically the same thing now. However a mission sure does sound more down to earth and formal and a quest sounds more erratic or other-worldly.

Ponce de Leon was on a quest to find the fountain of youth. He might have a mission to find the first river system to flow north to south.

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A Quest is a Journey with a General Goal involved, but without any clearly defined tasks (A Quest For Knowledge)

A Mission is a Clearly Defined Set of Tasks (Your Mission Is To Find A Bridge, Call For Reinforcements, And Secure The Route To The Safe Zone).

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