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tilt at windmills

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Engage in conflict with an imagined opponent, pursue a vain goal, as in Trying to reform campaign financing in this legislature is tilting at windmills. This metaphoric expression alludes to the hero of Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote (1605), who rides with his lance at full tilt (poised to strike) against a row of windmills, which he mistakes for evil giants.

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

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