What are the current and common idioms used to describe indulging in purposeless and purposeful thoughts?

I know two idioms that in my opinion one of them is used to describe the positive (purposeful) thinking and the other one for useless (purposeless) thoughts:

A. Woolgathering (the verb: to woolgather), which seems to be archaic. {This is a negative one in my eyes, but I'm not sure first of all I am right in this regard. Then, whether it is used in current English.}

B. Daydreaming (the verb: to daydream), which based on dictionary definition seems to be something positive.


  1. It is good to .............. sometimes. To have a vision and keep thinking about it all the time, can make you more ambitious and increase your motives to get what you want.

  2. You are always just thinking about your goals. I think it's time to stop .................. . Roll up your sleeves and get to work.

I wonder what shall I use in each case above? Do my offers fit these examples? If not, please let me know what are the most appropriate and common idioms for these cases?


Also, I need to compare "fantasize" with these two.


To think about something very pleasant that is unlikely to happen.

I wonder which one is positive and which one is negative and Which ones are synonymous?

  • I think of "daydreaming" and "woolgathering" as both being towards the purposeless end of the spectrum - with woolgathering having a more critical tone.
    – user888379
    Aug 11, 2019 at 13:18
  • Are they interchangeable @user888379? I wonder which type of English native you are? I mean AE/BE? As an American native (sumelic) believes there is no such a term as "woolgathering" in common English.
    – A-friend
    Aug 11, 2019 at 14:26
  • 1
    Collins seems to regard them as synonyms - collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/woolgathering . Woolgathering is a perfectly familiar term to me (British, 60+) and I think of it as idly letting your mind wander, while fantasizing is more consciously imagining a desirable situation. Aug 11, 2019 at 14:52
  • Uh @sumelic, sorry for the mistake. Yes, I meant suspectus's answer in my comment.
    – A-friend
    Aug 11, 2019 at 16:47
  • 1
    @A-friend I'm an American, more specifically a New Englander. I never thought of "woolgathering" as a particularly exotic word; a little old-fashioned, perhaps.
    – user888379
    Aug 11, 2019 at 18:25

1 Answer 1


I've not heard of "woolgathering" before.

For a expression with possibly negative undertones, there is head in the clouds.

e.g. He was not listening, he had his head in the clouds.

For thinking in a positive sense, the verbs to deliberate or to ponder could be used.

e.g. She deliberated before purchasing her ticket.

The young man pondered over applying for a university course.

Fantasize would be used for an incredible or wild daydream. Deliberate and ponder would be used usually for more serious thinking.

  • @A-friend post edited for what it's worth.
    – suspectus
    Aug 11, 2019 at 14:43

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