A lot of people are interested in what the popular idiom «tilt at windmills» means. Here is a short explanation supported by examples.
If we say that somebody tilts at windmills, we mean that he or she fights against something that is not important or does not exist at all. In other words, such a person wastes his or her energy, time and sometimes even money on what nobody really cares about.
For example, a school teacher is a strong opponent of mobile phones at school, although her pupils, who are well-bred, use their phones exclusively in order to get some new information and only during breaks. But the teacher is nevertheless extremely worried and keeps on punishing anyone in whose hands she spots a phone. So, she sees a big problem where there is no problem at all and just tilts at windmills.
There is a well-known joke about a man who was loudly clapping without any obvious reason. When he was asked why he was clapping, he said he was scaring the crocodiles away.
When told that there were not any crocodiles around, he proudly said that it proved his clapping was effective. Going back to our idiom, we can say that the man was tilting at windmills because the danger existed only in his head.
Unfortunately, this idiom is often used to present a situation in a false light. For example, in a particular country there are a lot of corrupt politicians whose dishonest activity has a very bad influence on the country's economy. Concerned citizens point to the authorities' faults and call other people to action in order to voice their opinion, stand their ground and finally improve the situation in the country. But at the same time, bribed TV channels, newspapers and other media say that the country is in a perfect condition, implying that the opponents' words are false and that those people are actually tilting at windmills and nothing more. So, in this case the idiom hides the real state of things.
It is interesting to trace the history of the idiom «tilt at windmills». Its roots are to be found in the literary works by Miguel de Cervantes, in one of whose books there is a character who mistakenly takes ordinary windmills for some scary creatures and as a consequence wants to fight against them.
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