Tilting at windmills is an idiom that has its origins in Spanish literature, over four hundred years ago. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal meaning. We will look at the meaning of tilting at windmills, where the phrase came from and some examples of its use in sentences.
Tilting at windmills means fighting imaginary enemies. The idiom tilting at windmills is first seen in the English language in the 1640s as “…fight with the windmills…” The verb tilting was soon substituted for the word fight. The term is taken from the classic Spanish novel, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. In the novel, the main character becomes enamored with the idea of chivalry, and spends his time fighting with windmills that he imagines to be giants. Tilting is the medieval sport of jousting with a lance. Of course, the windmills are not enemies but are simply inanimate objects, and Quixote’s tilting at windmills was an exercise in futility. Related terms are tilt at windmills, tilts at windmills, tilted at windmills.
The ludicrous anti-abortion crusade in Malta is a mark of moral paranoia, a tilting at windmills, a non-existent problem insofar as the cry of abortion-in-Malta-by-the-backdoor (called a ‘holocaust’ no less) is concerned. (The Times of Malta)
He may be tilting at windmills as far as they are concerned but at least, unlike most of us who just mutter to each other over a beer or coffee cup, he takes the trouble to voice his feelings publicly which most of us are too indifferent, lethargic or apathetic to do. (The Berea Mail)