Chase one’s own tail is an idiom that doesn’t seem to have become popular until the mid-twentieth century. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase, or phrasal verbs that have a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. These figures of speech often use descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often colloquialisms or descriptors that are spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase or expression that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, bite the bullet, beat a dead horse, hit the nail on the head, kicked the bucket, blow off steam, jump on the bandwagon, piece of cake, hit the sack, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. It is possible to memorize a list of idioms, but it may be easier to pay attention to the use of idioms in everyday speech, where peculiar imagery will tell you that the expressions should not be taken literally. We will examine the meaning of the idiomatic phrase chase one’s own tail, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.
To chase one’s own tail means to do something futile, be be very busy doing something that will not lead to any achievement. Someone who chases his own tail is vigorously doing something that will not lead to any type of success. The phrase to chase one’s own tail is derived from the action of a dog chasing his tail–it is a pointless exercise that ends in either no conclusion or the conclusion of the dog catching his own tail, which is useless. Related phrases are chases one’s own tail, chased one’s own tail, chasing one’s own tail.
“When you get happy with a product, you can chase your own tail trying to perfect it,” he says. (The Corvallis Advocate)
If so, according to Washington Post journalist Brigid Schulte, you are in tune with the rest of the Western world, where the greatest privilege seems to be the right to chase your own tail until you drop dead. (The Daily Mail)
“In effect, he was chasing his tail in relation to his finances — he had some very significant loans with some crippling interest — to keep his head above water,” his barrister Daniel Caruana told the court. (The Brisbane Times)
And they are super proud, so it’s a ridiculous thing, it’s like chasing my own tail, you know? (The Chicago Tribune)