54

"To send somebody out in pursuit of some black chickpeas" is a Persian idiom that implies 'to make or ask someone to run an errand so that you be able to have/ buy some time in order to deal with your private affairs in their absence', like having or continuing a (secret) conversation with someone else.

According to its etymology, since 'black garbanzos/chickpeas' were rarely available in the markets, when someone wanted to buy them, they had to search many stores for a long time, and most of time they couldn't find them at all.

Today, its meaning has changed somehow, and it doesn't necessarily mean that we ask someone to run an impossible errand, but it means we use that errand as an excuse to send them away for a while just to have time to do something in their absence.

Example scenario:

Suppose your classmate has come to your house and you are talking about some girly issues in the sitting room. Now you want to tell her a big secret about one of your classmates, but not in the presence of your younger sister who is sitting there too. So you ask her to go to the market and buy some snacks for you. In this way, you will have some time to continue your conversation until she is back. So you might say to your friend:

Well, I sent my sister out in pursuit of some black chickpeas. I'm sure that she won't be back for another 15 minutes, so we can talk more freely now."

And your sister, before leaving the house, might sarcastically say to you:

Okay, but I know this is just an excuse, and you are just sending me in pursuit of some black chickpeas!!! so don't think that you can fool me!

Is there any idiom, expression or proverb that conveys the same meaning or connotation in English (i.e. to make or ask someone to do an errand just in order to buy time so that you can deal with some of your private affairs)?

I have found to be/go on 'a wild-goose chase' but I'm not sure if I can use it or not.

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    Your questions (which I love) are making me wonder if Persian is particularly rich in idioms, or whether it just seems so because English idioms don't really register because they are so familiar. – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Jul 13 '16 at 20:33
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    @ab2, Thanks. I think both of them! :) We eastern people use idioms and proverbs in our conversations more that western people. It seems that You western people speak in a more straightforward manner than us, we express our statements less directly, and often by using idioms , expressions or proverbs. :) – Soudabeh Jul 13 '16 at 20:37
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    Where did all those comments go?!!! – Soudabeh Jul 15 '16 at 13:33
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    I can think of several idioms for a pointless errand, but none that imply that it is done for the purpose of discussing something in the person's abscence – Kevin Jul 15 '16 at 14:23
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    @ab2: Persian does have a lot of idioms, but Soudabeh also knows a particularly large fraction of them. :) This particular one is used often enough, but a lot the others are much more rarely invoked. – Mehrdad Jul 18 '16 at 6:14

13 Answers 13

69

Wild Goose Chase

a search that is completely unsuccessful and a waste of time because the person or thing being searched for does not exist or is somewhere else:


Further reading: The first recorded citation is from Romeo and Juliet, 1592:

Romeo: Switch and spurs, switch and spurs; or I'll cry a match.

Mercutio: 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.

Our current use of the phrase alludes to an undertaking which will probably prove to be fruitless - and it's hard to imagine anything more doomed to failure than an attempt to catch a wild goose by chasing after it.

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.


Additionally if you are looking to send someone after a specific item, you could try a

Left-handed monkey wrench

a non-existing tool

In a sentence: "Hey Jim, go get me that left-handed monkey wrench".

Wrenches in general do not need a specific orientation or hand to operate and therefore don't need to directional qualifier. Also, other hand tools are designed for right-handed operation as the majority of the population is aligned that way.

See also: pipe stretcher, blinker fluid

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    They actually make left-handed versions of many tools. (Scissors, for example.) But a left-handed monkey wrench doesn't exist because standard monkey wrenches can be used equally well by right-handed and left-handed people, even though they're not completely symmetrical. So it's not bias towards right-handed people, it's that there's no need for one. – Peter Shor Jul 13 '16 at 21:55
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    I thought the whole point about "left handed monkey wrench" is that there is no handedness to wrenches, which seems to be supported by @PeterShor's comment but not by your link. Interesting. – cat Jul 14 '16 at 1:11
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    I've always thought the point of a left-handed monkey wrench was that it's quite difficult to tell if a monkey is left- or right-handed. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 14 '16 at 5:59
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    The OP wanted an idiom for getting someone out of the way for a little while by sending her on a normal errand---not on one that is impossible or would make a fool of anyone attempting to carry it out. – John Bentin Jul 14 '16 at 9:57
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    Sending someone on a search for a left handed monkey wrench is a practical joke, not a ploy to keep him busy so that you can do something else. This does not meet the requirements of the question. – David42 Jul 15 '16 at 12:24
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The "formal" word in English is pretext:

A reason given in justification of a course of action that is not the real reason

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/pretext

You could say "I sent my sister away on a pretext so we can talk more freely".

Or if you asked your sister to go out and buy something, she might say "I know that's just a pretext to get rid of me for a few minutes."

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    I've been reading about Brexit too much, I read this as "pretexit" – Azor Ahai Jul 14 '16 at 0:20
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    +1, although not an idiom, this is a more accurate description of the example scenario than "wild goose chase". You might say you sent them "on a wild-goose chase, as a pretext". This also dovetails nicely with the observation in comments that English tends to be more straightforward, with less idioms. – DCShannon Jul 14 '16 at 0:27
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    @DCShannon I once read somewhere that the literal translation of the Arabic or Persian phrase "to read a letter" is actually "to read and understand a letter" - and the writer was pointing out that because of the number of idioms in the languages, "reading but not understanding" was a very frequent occurrence! – alephzero Jul 14 '16 at 0:38
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    @Azor-Ahai There's every change Brexit was just a Pretexit for something else. – Pureferret Jul 15 '16 at 9:07
  • Great answer, but the original idiom has a lot more emphasis on the difficulty of finding what is sought than it does on the idea of getting rid of the person from your vicinity -- and it doesn't have to involve giving them a reason for anything per se, it just means sending them to look for something that's going to take a... while. – Mehrdad Jul 18 '16 at 6:18
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Although not an idiom, you could maintain the notion of “sending someone on an errand” (without implying that it is an impossible task) by modifying the errand with an adjective that could imply that its real purpose was to cause the errand-runner to “[temporarily] get lost.”
For example:

contrived errand
(used in The Century, Volume 3 via Google Books, where “Mis’ Wilder … banish[es] ‘the girls’ in [a] clumsily contrived errand to the buttery [in order to have some time to gossip with Mis’ Philbrick]”)

Or

concocted errand

“They were down in Gunter's quarters a few minutes later when the caretaker was dismissed on some concocted errand so that the two had the room to themselves.”
(from The Blue Daffodil by Fred M. White, via ‘Project Gutenberg Australia’)

“Well, I sent my sister out on a contrived/concocted errand. I'm sure that she won't be back for another 15 minutes, so we can talk more freely now."

“Okay, but I know this is just a contrived/concocted errand!!! So don't think that you can fool me!”

13

In New England you can say that you sent a child or children somewhere "to get them out of our hair". The implication is that the children are creating noise, distractions, or making demands which make adult conversation or work difficult.

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    You can use this expression many places other than New England. – Casey Jul 17 '16 at 22:47
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Wild Goose Chase, above is probably the most correct, but you could also use the related "Snipe Hunt."

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    To me a snipe hunt is implicitly done out of ill will or to prank someone. So it is not only missing the second implication the OP wants but has a very different one instead. – Helmar Jul 13 '16 at 21:19
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    It is often done, as in the movie 'Up', to keep someone busy so you can have some peace. This is at least close to what the OP is asking for. – IchabodE Jul 13 '16 at 21:27
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    We don't hunt snipe in the UK, but phrases like "left handed monkey wrench," "pipe stretcher", or "go to the stores and get some red and green oil for the warning lights" are usually the sort of pranks that are played on an employee starting a new job, which is not the situation the OP is talking about. – alephzero Jul 14 '16 at 0:09
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    A wild goose chase is a search which <b>proves</b> futile and time consuming. It conveys no implication as to why that is. You would have to say "<b>deliberately</b> send on a wild goose chase" to get even close to what the questioner wants. A Snipe Hunt has a purpose very different from what the questioner wants to suggest. – David42 Jul 15 '16 at 12:44
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    The original Persian idiom describes a shopping trip for a product that does exist but that is not always available and is difficult to find at the best of times. So not a snipe hunt. The current usage of the idiom describes any errand intended to get someone out of your hair for a while, and the OP gives buying snacks as an example, so not a wild goose chase. – nnnnnn Jul 17 '16 at 0:36
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The (American) English equivalent I would use is to "send someone out on a fool's errand."

  • That expression's also common in British English. – ArchContrarian Aug 21 '17 at 14:21
8

Go away and play” and variants such as “Run along and play” or “Go find something to do”, along with “Send the kids to the movies” and the similar “Go out for a pizza”, are sometimes used for this:

“[I]t suddenly seemed as if neither had time for her, that she had been given her doll and that she should go away and play with it, there's a good girl.” —The River Running By by Charles Gidley & Charles Gidley Wheeler

“We say, ‘You run along and play, you are too little; you will break the dishes.’ . . . If we have not the time for these children, mothers, what on earth have we time for?” — “The Report of the Children" by Mrs. W.R. Hollowell, in Report of the Women's Institutes, 1907

Run Along and Play memeanimaged GIF found on Yarn

“It may be an idea to send the kids to the movies so we can decide without their unnecessary pressure.” —Stay: The Search Begins by Ian Newbegin, 2013

“So let us dust off the reading lamp, move off the screened porch, send the kids to the movies, and get into action.” —“Start Postwar Reading Now” by Kendall Wiesiger in The Rotarian, 1943

And with pizza:

“I wish I could send the kids out for pizza and a movie for about three days (LOL).” —random blog comment from the web

These can be used literally, which makes them somewhat different from your own phrase or from a wild goose chase. However, in context I believe that they are pretty clearly understood in a more figurative, idiomatic sense1 that includes an implication of getting someone out of the way in order to do something else.

The first type, “go away and play,” are actually used directly to children. They're somewhat figurative, in the sense that parents don't care whether the child actually plays, but it's a fairly literal statement. Directed to an adult, it would imply that the person is bothering you with trivialities and you have better things to do (the image above is a good example of this).

The second set are more likely to be used in a purely figurative way to mean “cut out distractions for whatever you want to do,” with a wink and a nudge. Also perhaps with a waggling of eyebrows, as “send the kids to the movies” seems to often have a suggestion of sending someone out of the way so a couple can have time and privacy to be amorous. See, for example, the title of this discussion thread2.

I would most often expect “send the kids to the movies” to refer to literal children (but not literal movies); however, I think your meaning would be clear if you said something like

We need to talk about re-arranging offices. After lunch, let's send the kids to the movies so we can walk around and talk about the possibilities.

So in your example:

You: Don't you have something to do?

Sister: Okay, I can take a hint, I know when I'm not wanted, I'll run along and play!

You, later: Well, I sent the kid to the movies, so we can talk more freely now.


1 There is fairly strong evidence that the latter two, at least, are set phrases: "send the kids to the movies" gets about 92,800 hits, and "send the kids for pizza" gets another 1300, while similar phrases like "send the kids to watch a movie", "send the kids to see a movie", "send the kids to watch TV", and "send the kids to get pizza" return 3, 1, 4, and 0 hits, respectively. I could not find a good alternative for "go away and play" other than "go play" or "go outside and play" which separate set phrases.

2 The subject of the thread is a linked article about a "bonkathon". It starts out with the quote "I can't believe we did the whole thing. We had little kids, too –" suggesting, surely, that they weren't literally sending the kids to the movie theater every night for 101 nights—and yet "Send the kids to the movies......again" was what the user chose to title the discussion.

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    "Go play outside" is widely recognized as a way for parents to temporarily get rid of the kids so they can have some peace or privacy. – barbecue Jul 15 '16 at 17:18
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    +1 I was often told to “Go outside and play in the street/s” by my [privacy-]loving parents. I understand that since last week, such parents are telling their kids to “Go catch some Pokémon/s!” – Papa Poule Jul 15 '16 at 21:55
  • +1 for "Send the kids to the movies". The emphasis of the question is not on the impossibility of the errand itself, but that it is contrived to buy some private time for the person setting it. The first phrase that came to mind for me was "send [someone] to the pictures"; it may be literally true for children but might also be used humorously to express a wish to get rid of an adult for a few hours. "Can't you give him a few quid and send him to the pictures?" – Nefrubyr Jul 18 '16 at 8:57
6

This is known as a snipe hunt.

It is used in many cultures. Examples at the click through.

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    From your own link 'A snipe hunt or fool's errand is a type of practical joke that involves experienced people making fun of credulous newcomers'. How does this meet the OPs quest for a term which specifically means getting someone out of the way because you need them not to be around for your own purposes? – Spagirl Jul 15 '16 at 9:32
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    The general purpose of sending out inexperienced and credulous people on an impossible task it to get them out of your hair. Context is important in translating an idiom. – larkvi Jul 15 '16 at 23:13
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These don't necessarily apply but English does have similar sayings, but they're for a different reason, normally to wind up the new person, the "Fool's Errand" or "Wild Goose Chase".

Some examples:

Railway industry (steam age):

  • Bucket of steam
  • Packet of big ends

Scout Association (we used these a lot when I was young):

  • Sky hooks (for holding things up)
  • Long weight (pun on "long wait", any excuse you could find)
  • Tin of elbow grease (elbow grease means hard work)

Painting and decorating:

  • Tin of striped paint

Sailing:

  • Packet of port tacks
  • Red and Green oil for the navigation lamps

There are many other examples, as you can see they're very industry specific and every industry will have them.

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    Ya. I was at an event where they sent a new scout out for a left handed smoke shifter and a sky hook to hang it from. He came back an hour later "I couldn't find any." – Paulb Jul 14 '16 at 13:31
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    @Paulb, at my last camp as a scout we convinced a new scout that a dildo was the camp equivalent of fire tongs and sent him to the leaders to get one. The squeal of shock from the leaders' tent was audible across the field. – Separatrix Jul 14 '16 at 13:34
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    These examples remind of being told (as a new apprentice) to shake an aerosol paint can until it no longer rattled. Having had some experience with a can of spray paint, I didn't fall for it but wasn't surprised when the next neophyte did. – Jeeped Jul 14 '16 at 17:55
  • I have been sent for "keys to the flag pole" and "blinker fluid." – jejorda2 Jul 14 '16 at 18:20
  • That's a great list, some new ones on me. But as you say yourself that they have a different purpose from the idiom the OP is asking about, they don't offer an answer to the question posed. – Spagirl Jul 15 '16 at 9:36
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Distraction

Well, I sent my sister out on a distraction. I'm sure that she won't be back for another 15 minutes, so we can talk more freely now."

And your sister, before leaving the house, might sarcastically say to you:

Okay, but I know this is just a distraction!!! so don't think that you can fool me!

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    Interesting. In what part of the world have you heard this expression? – David42 Jul 15 '16 at 12:45
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    Diversion would fit better, methinks. – The Nate Jul 15 '16 at 21:37
4

There is always the slightly comedic

can you go to the store and ask for a long weight

Generally used more as a trick on the young and / or naive workers, not knowing that a long weight doesn't exist.

The store owner, who also knows the gag will tell them to take a seat and just leave them there, as they have asked for a long wait

It doesn't have the implication to arrange something else in their absence, but it does get them out of your hair for a bit.

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    A variation of this is to tell someone to go to a manager named "Helen Waite" (hell and wait). – Tom Au Jul 15 '16 at 21:22
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    A couple of my old school teachers used those kind of jokes to get unruly pupils out of the class, and to give them time to calm down. "Go and ask the janitor for a long stand" was one. "Go and ask Mr X for a thighelbow" (sounds like it could be some kind of apparatus, but the 'joke' is that the victim will end up in a bored posture, elbow resting on thigh). Or if the kid seemed particularly daft, they'd be send for a "bucket of steam". – ArchContrarian Aug 21 '17 at 14:30
1

"Take a walk"

This phrase can be used to tell another person to go away for a period of time.

It is a bit forceful, and I've only heard it used when the person is behaving unruly, and the speaker has some sort of authority over them.

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    In my mind, this has the added meaning of "don't come back at all". – Mr Lister Jul 17 '16 at 18:06
0

A time sink is a term to describe an activity that, usually by design, takes a long period of time. It's analogous to a heat sink, a device that absorbs heat from a device.

It's a fairly nerdy term, mainly used in gaming or technology circles.

  • Is the term specifically used to describe getting a person out of the way for a while? – Spagirl Jul 15 '16 at 9:37

protected by tchrist Jul 15 '16 at 12:01

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