tilt at windmills


1 [tilt]
verb (used with object)
to cause to lean, incline, slope, or slant.
to rush at or charge, as in a joust.
to hold poised for attack, as a lance.
to move (a camera) up or down on its vertical axis for photographing or televising a moving character, object, or the like.
verb (used without object)
to move into or assume a sloping position or direction.
to strike, thrust, or charge with a lance or the like (usually followed by at ).
to engage in a joust, tournament, or similar contest.
(of a camera) to move on its vertical axis: The camera tilts downward for an overhead shot.
to incline in opinion, feeling, etc.; lean: She's tilting toward the other candidate this year.
an act or instance of tilting.
the state of being tilted; a sloping position.
a slope.
a joust or any other contest.
a dispute; controversy.
a thrust of a weapon, as at a tilt or joust.
(in aerial photography) the angle formed by the direction of aim of a camera and a perpendicular to the surface of the earth.
(at) full tilt. full tilt.
tilt at windmills, to contend against imaginary opponents or injustices. Also, fight with windmills.

1300–50; Middle English tylten to upset, tumble < Scandinavian; compare dialectal Norwegian tylta to tiptoe, tylten unsteady; akin to Old English tealt unsteady, tealtian to totter, amble, Middle Dutch touteren to sway

tiltable, adjective
tilter, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
tilt1 (tɪlt)
vb (when intr, often foll by at)
1.  to incline or cause to incline at an angle
2.  (usually intr) to attack or overthrow (a person or people) in a tilt or joust
3.  to aim or thrust: to tilt a lance
4.  (tr) to work or forge with a tilt hammer
5.  a slope or angle: at a tilt
6.  the act of tilting
7.  esp in medieval Europe
 a.  a jousting contest
 b.  a thrust with a lance or pole delivered during a tournament
8.  an attempt to win a contest
9.  See tilt hammer
10.  full tilt, at full tilt at full speed or force
[Old English tealtian; related to Dutch touteren to totter, Norwegian tylta to tiptoe, tylten unsteady]

tilt2 (tɪlt)
1.  an awning or canopy, usually of canvas, for a boat, booth, etc
2.  (tr) to cover or provide with a tilt
[Old English teld; related to Old High German zelt tent, Old Norse tjald tent]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

O.E. *tyltan "to be unsteady," from tealt "unsteady," from P.Gmc. *taltaz (cf. O.N. tyllast "to trip," Swed. tulta "to waddle," Norw. tylta "to walk on tip-toe," M.Du. touteren "to swing"). Meaning "to cause to lean, tip, slope" (1594) is from sense of "push or fall over." Intrans. sense first recorded
1626. Meaning "condition of being tilted" is recorded from 1837.

"a joust, a combat," 1511, perhaps from tilt (v.) on the notion of "to lean" into an attack, but the word originally seems to have been the name of the barrier which separated the combatants, which suggests connection with tilt in an earlier meaning "covering of coarse cloth,
an awning" (c.1440), which is probably from tilt (v.), but perhaps related to or influenced by tent, or it may be from a Gmc. source akin to O.E. beteldan "to cover." The verb is recorded from 1595. Hence, also full tilt (c.1600).
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

tilt at windmills

Engage in conflict with an imagined opponent, pursue a vain goal, as in Trying to reform campaign financing in this legislature is tilting at windmills. This metaphoric expression alludes to the hero of Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote (1605), who rides with his lance at full tilt (poised to strike) against a row of windmills, which he mistakes for evil giants.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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