Moving the goalposts


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Moving the goalposts'?

Changing the target of a process or competition to by one side in order to gain advantage.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Moving the goalposts'?

This phrase is a straightforward derivation from sports that use goalposts, that is, Football, Rugby Football, American Football etc. The figurative use alludes to the perceived unfairness in changing the goal one is trying to achieve after the process one is engaged in has already started.

The phrase came into wide use in the UK during the 1980s. The first citation I can find of it, although I’m sure there must be earlier ones, is a report of a meeting of finance ministers, in the Jamaican newspaper The Gleaner, September 1987:

“I see no reason to move the goalposts at all.” said British Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) Nigel Lawson.

Trend of moving the goalposts in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.