Tilting At Windmills: the Meaning and this Popular Idiom and How to Use It?

Last Updated on March 21, 2020

The idiomatic phrase “tilting at windmills” may be a phrase you encounter in everyday informal conversation and writing. Here you will find the meaning of the phrase and information regarding its origin. You will also find examples of how to properly use this phrase in conversations/statements and discover alternative ways to say this phrase while still conveying the same meaning.

Tilting At Windmills

Tilting At Windmills Meaning

The idiomatic phrase “tilting at windmills” means that someone is fighting enemies that are not there.

Origin of this idiom

The phrase “tilting with windmills” is an English phrase that was derived in the 1640s. The inspiration for this phrase came from the novel Don Quixote written and published in two parts between 1605 and 1615 respectively. In the book, the main character was obsessed with being a knight and was a bit delusional. He believed that windmills were giants and would engage in battle with them. In Old English, the phrase tilting was associated with an old form of jousting. Late the word tilting was changed to fighting.

“Tilting At Windmills” Examples

Example Statements

A statement made by a celebrity during an interview with a well-known entertainment magazine.

  • “Growing up my mother always told me to stop tilting at windmills. It was the best advice she could have ever given me.”

A statement made by a politician running for office.

  • “It is time that we stop tilting at windmills and battle the real enemy.”

Example Conversations

A conversation between a mother and her son.

  • Mother: Jeremy, I need you to take out the trash!
  • Son: I will in just a second mom! I am tilting at windmills!
  • Mother: You’re doing what?!?!
  • Son: I meant I am on World of Warcraft and involved in a fight with my enemies. I will be down to take out the trash in just a second.

A conversation between two friends at school.

  • Friend 1: You need to stop wasting your time tilting at windmills!
  • Friend 2: What are you talking about? I am attacking ninjas with my pencil. I am bored!
  • Friend 1: That’s exactly what I am talking about! You are fighting nonexistent ninjas!

Other Ways to Say “Tilting At Windmills”

Like all idiomatic phrases, there are many alternative ways to say “tilting at windmills” and convey the same meaning. Some other ways that you can say this phrase include:

  • You are fighting imaginary enemies
  • You are fighting with things that aren’t there
  • You are delusional and seeing things

Tilting At Windmills | Picture

Tilting At WindmillsPin


2 thoughts on “Tilting At Windmills: the Meaning and this Popular Idiom and How to Use It?”

  1. It actually refers to a scene in Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes‘ novel Don Quixote. Nothing English about it, except the jousting (tilting), I suppose!

  2. Thanks. Heard the expression watching Episodes of the former English TV show, “New Tricks.” Not an ESL student, but US person unfamiliar with English and Irish Idioms and phrases.


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