Is "fight windmills" ( In meaning of fighting imaginary enemies) idiom common in modern spoken English? And what is the modern equivalent for the idiom if not.

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    You can do preliminary research for questions like this for yourself with Google ngram. Then you should refine them and adrenaline them to English Language Learners.
    – David
    Feb 15, 2019 at 20:31
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    thank you for the advice! Google ngram is only for book sources. I am more intrested about context of "spoken language". Looks like google also have ngram tool for the sources other than books but it's not free english.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1196/… Feb 15, 2019 at 20:48
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    As an American who has lived in California their entire life, I can say I've never heard "tilting at windmills" or "fighting windmills" used in conversation (or even read it outside of Don Quixote). I can't speak for the rest of the country or English-speaking world, but it's certainly not commonly used here
    – mowwwalker
    Feb 15, 2019 at 23:20
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    @mowwwalker, I wouldn't say tilting at windmills is in common usage but I would not say it is obscure. I'm not that well read and haven't read Don Quixote but I have read or heard the phrase various times throughout my life (having lived in the US for 50+ years and CA for 15+). Feb 16, 2019 at 0:02
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    "Fighting windmills" itself is not idiomatic, but it is definitely an understandable allusion to someone familiar with the real idiom.
    – barbecue
    Feb 16, 2019 at 15:42

2 Answers 2


"Tilting at windmills" is a literary English idiom that means attacking imaginary enemies.

The expression is derived from the 1605 novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, and the word "tilt" in this context comes from jousting or tilting: A combat or encounter (for exercise or sport) between two armed men on horseback, with lances or similar weapons, the aim of each being to throw his opponent from the saddle (OED).

Related idioms include going on a wild goose chase and chasing rainbows. All three phrases make the point that an objective is illusory, impractical, or impossible. As such, people who tilt at windmills, pursue wild geese or chase rainbows are frequently said to be 'off/away with the fairies' and 'in a world of their own'!


"(You're) fighting against the wind." or "(You're) Fighting the wind" This means that fighting is futile; has no point to it.


"Pissing against the wind." When you piss against the wind, the wind blows your piss back on you. So, in some cases you're fighting something that will just hurt yourself.

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    Pissing in the wind is stupid & futile. Tilting at windmills is noble but misinformed/delusional. The two do not equate.
    – Tetsujin
    Feb 17, 2019 at 9:58

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