Raise the bar

Raise the bar is an idiom that arose around the turn of the twentieth century. 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 that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, hit the nail on the head, kick the bucket, 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 meaning of the idiom raise the bar, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

Raise the bar means to set a high standard, to raise expectations, to set higher goals. The expression is often used in a situation where someone’s performance surpasses the performances of others by far. The idiom raise the bar came into use around 1900 and comes from the sport of track and field. The high jump event and the pole vault event both involve raising a crossbar incrementally to see how high the participants can jump or pole vault. Related phrases are raises the bar, raised, the bar, raising the bar.


“I think this will attract more old-timers, raise the bar and make it more competitive.” (The Jackson Hole News & Guide)

The toy company behind Barbie and Hot Wheels hopes to raise the bar for inclusion with a line of gender-neutral dolls. (The Huffington Post)

“Diamond-selling, multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning rap superstar, entrepreneur, philanthropist and actor, Nelly, has continually raised the bar for the entertainment industry since stepping on the scene in 2000 with his distinctive vocals and larger-than-life personality,” the release said. (The Herald News)

But other husbands in the area are now feeling the pressure to do something spectacular for their wives as well — and they have no problem “thanking” Wilson for raising the bar. (People Magazine)

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