“Tilting at windmills” is an English idiom which means attacking imaginary enemies. The word “tilt” means jousting. ”Tilt” in the phrase is an antiquated sense of the verb “to tilt” meaning “to engage in combat,” specifically for two mounted knights to charge each other with lances extended. The phrase is sometimes used to describe confrontations where adversaries are incorrectly perceived, or courses of action that are based on misinterpreted or misapplied heroic, romantic, or idealistic justifications. It may also mean an importune, unfound, and vain effort against confabulated adversaries for a vain goal. The phrase derives from an episode in the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, where in protagonist Don Quixote fights windmills that he imagines to be giants. A relevant part of the novel states:
Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, "Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless."
"What giants?" asked Sancho Panza.
"Those you see over there," replied his master, "with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length."
"Take care, sir," cried Sancho. "Those over there are not giants but windmills. Those things that seem to be their arms are sails which, when they are whirled around by the wind, turn the millstone."
The episode is about Don Quixote in his delusions mistaking windmills for giants and consequently losing his mind against the overpowering machine. Don Quixote bravely came for such evil creatures he saw without hesitating because he thought it is what knight should do. He was willing to do the...