Move the needle

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Move the needle is an idiom that is several decades old. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom move the needle, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Move the needle is an idiom that means to make a change that is noticeable, to alter or modify something so that the effect of your action is measurable. Most often, move the needle is used in a positive sense, meaning to make progress toward a goal. The expression move the needle became popular in a figurative sense from the 1980s and is one of many phrases that began as business jargon. The image is of a needle on a gauge or meter moving in response to stimuli; related phrases are moves the needle, moved the needle, moving the needle.


The sheer size and scope of many businesses mean they can have a huge impact, and shifts in corporate settings can quickly move the needle on social and environmental issues. (Forbes)

Lelio, who identifies as a white heterosexual man, said he didn’t start out to make a transgender film or advance the transgender cause but was glad his movie helped move the needle on Chilean attitudes. (Harvard Gazette)

Durant alone has been un-guardable, but not in a way that has moved the needle toward victory against the NBA’s best teams. (New York Daily News)