I come from Bulgaria and we have a proverb that says (translated one to one) "You're searching calf under the ox." which literally means that I am searching for something that might not exists.

Example usage: "Stop interrogating Mary already, she's obviously not guilty, don't search for calf under the ox."

Is there idiom with same meaning in English as well?

  • 'might' it not exist, or is it very probable that it does not exist?
    – loonquawl
    Aug 2, 2018 at 12:10
  • well depends on the context actually, sometimes it definitely does not exist, but sometimes it is used when something is very unlikely to exists. :/
    – kuskmen
    Aug 2, 2018 at 12:41
  • 1
    Boiling the ocean is a good phrase for endless exploration and search.
    – user862888
    Aug 2, 2018 at 14:22

3 Answers 3


"On a wild goose chase" might work.

Cambridge Dictionary gives this definition:

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:
After two hours spent wandering in the snow, I realized we were on a wild goose chase.

The phrase finder has an article on the history of the phrase. Here's an extract:

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 race in which horses followed a lead horse at a set distance, mimicking wild geese flying in formation.

  • OP is looking for something that encompasses searches that might be successful (though probably aren't) - a Wild goose chase is (from the perspective of the one saying it) completely hopeless.
    – loonquawl
    Aug 2, 2018 at 13:29
  • 2
    If the assumption is that it's definitely there then you could use 'looking for a needle in a haystack'.
    – S Conroy
    Aug 2, 2018 at 18:20

tilt at windmills TFD

To waste time opposing or trying to resolve issues that are imaginary, not as important, or impossible to overcome.


Hunting the Snark

This is the title of a Lewis Carroll poem, referencing a non-existent animal, the hunt for which must be fruitless.

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