Move the goalposts and shift the goalposts

Move the goalposts and shift the goalposts are idioms that may not be as old as you think. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase 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 such as beat around the bush, ballpark figure, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, Achilles heel, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, a dime a dozen, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, 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. We will examine the definition of the expressions move the goalposts and shift the goalposts, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

To move the goalposts or to shift the goalposts means to change the rules, requirements or parameters of a situation in order to gain an unfair advantage or to guarantee that it is impossible for others to succeed. This is considered unfair, and is a form of cheating. It is akin to children who change the rules of a game such as tag or Monopoly when they are losing, in order to give themselves an advantage. A goalpost is a structure that signifies where the goal line is, and where the goalkeeper should stand to guard against a field goal. Occasionally the words goalpost and goalposts are rendered as open compound words, as in goal post and goal posts, but the Oxford English Dictionary only lists the closed compound spelling. As with most idioms, the phrases may be used for the literal meaning of words that appear in the term. There are no word lists of synonyms that may be found in a thesaurus that are an exact match to the meaning of move the goalposts and shift the goalposts, though swindle, cheat, and change the rules may be considered to have a similar meaning. The expressions move the goalposts and shift the goalposts are almost always used idiomatically, as goalposts are normally fixed. A variety of sports use a goalpost, including football, soccer, and rugby. The phrases move the goalposts and shift the goalposts first appeared in print in the 1980s, and are popular business expressions. Related phrases are moves the goalposts, moved the goalposts, moving the goalposts, shifts the goalposts, shifted the goalposts, shifting the goalposts.


“Instead of helping the Dems move the goalposts from collusion to obstruction to, now, cover up, how about some straight reporting for a change?” tweeted Ed Mosca, a former NH House legal counsel. (The Union Leader)

The individual said: “This shows that the SAS is happy to extend the limit and move the goalposts when it suits them but it could set a dangerous precedent.” (The Strathspey and Badenoch Herald)

More likely is that the Trump plan is meant to legitimate new ideas; to “move the markers” or “shift the goalposts” on the parameters for an aspirational Israeli-Palestinian peace accord somewhere off in the distant future. (The Jerusalem Post)

Islamabad’s attempt to shift the goalposts at the first such meeting on Thursday irked New Delhi. (The Hindustan Times)

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