J’ai été à la chasse au dahut.
zhay ay-tay ah lah shah soh dah-EW. Click below the hear this.
I’ve been on a wild-goose chase.
…and when I figured it out, was I ever annoyed!
This expression, meaning a fruitless search for an unfindable object, has a long history in English (it was the title of a play published in 1621!). The assumption, of course, being that it is impossible to catch a wild goose. Even though they appear unafraid of people and even cars in some American cities, you’re not likely to catch one. Whether they waddle or fly away, or attack and hurt you, you will be left empty-handed.
You may acknowledge that you have set yourself an impossible task, or someone may (as a joke, or unwittingly) send you on an impossible mission. You can use the expression either way. In France, it’s a dahu or dahut that you may be sent after, or feel that you have been chasing. Never heard of a dahut? Neither had I. That’s because it doesn’t exist.
If you look it up on Wikipedia, you will find that this creature is associated with a bouquetin, supposedly a type of mountain goat that lives on steep rises, therefore possessing two shorter legs (for the uphill side) on its left and two longer legs (for the downhill side, of course) on its right. Or vice versa. Maybe a dahut looks like a bouquetin, maybe not. No one’s ever seen one. It’s probably also related to the North American snipe, which unsuspecting tenderfoot Boy Scouts may be sent after, in the woods, at night, with nothing but a flashlight and a sack to catch the snipe in. They stumble back to the campfire a couple of hours later, cold, weary, and a little more suspicious than before. They’ve been had.
If you return from your holiday shopping without the toy your child covets, you can say J’ai été à la chasse au dahut. It just can’t be found, the stores are empty. It may as well not exist. Take heart; the toy may not be as marvelous as advertised anyway. Kick off your shoes, pour a cup of cocoa, and think of a better idea.
Alternate audio file link: jai-ete-a-la-chasse-au-dahut