move the goalposts

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A modern goal used in association football (soccer). The term move the goalposts derives from this game.

A metaphor of British origin derived from association football (soccer),[1] from the idea that it is difficult for a player to kick the ball into the goal if it is moved.


  • (Received Pronunciation) IPA(key): /ˈmuːv ðə ˈɡəʊlpəʊsts/, /ˈmuːv ðə ˈɡɔʊlpəʊsts/
  • (General American) IPA(key): /ˈmuːv ðə ˈɡoʊlpoʊst/
  • (file)
  • Hyphenation: move the goal‧posts


move the goalposts (third-person singular simple present moves the goalposts, present participle moving the goalposts, simple past and past participle moved the goalposts)

  1. (idiomatic) To alter the terms of an agreement or an agreed target, or the rules of a negotiation while it is ongoing, especially in an unfair way.
    This is a Government that meets its economic targets and does not move the goalposts.
    We were given a moving date, and an exchange date, but the buyers kept moving the goalposts and giving us a later date.
    • [1958, Telephone Engineer and Management, volume 62, Wheaton, Ill.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publications, OCLC 2451041, page 64:
      The tempo at which events are moving, the technological changes and the new developments being encountered on all sides sometimes gives the impression that the objectives or goal posts are constantly being moved.]
    • 1977, The Ladies’ Home Journal, volume 94, Los Angeles, Calif.: Family Media, inc., ISSN 0023-7124, OCLC 890503999, page 62, column 3:
      The conflict between being a lady and having a career was crystallized when I was in high school. It seemed as if my mother kept moving the goalposts around.
    • 1992, W[illiam] C[lement] McGrew, “What Chimpanzees Are, Are Not, and Might Be”, in Chimpanzee Material Culture: Implications for Human Evolution, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, published 1996, →ISBN, page 217:
      The common thread to these four problems is the question of wha can reasonably be inferred about the covert processes, as opposed to the overt acts, of other organisms if we and they cannot communicate directly through verbal disclosure. [] No one baulks at applying the same standards of inference to other cultures of our species, but it is still easy to move the goalposts when another species is involved [].
    • 2003 January 14, Peter G[osselin] Fitzgerald, “Statement of Hon. Peter G. Fitzgerald, U.S. Senator from Illinois”, in Competition in the Telecommunications Industry: Hearing before the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, United States Senate, One Hundred Eighth Congress, First Session, Washington, D.C.: Printed for use of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; U.S. Government Printing Office, published 2006, →ISBN, page 85:
      Sooner or later we have to have rules, and we have to know that they are not going to change, for people to have business plans developed and so that they can go out and raise capital and stick with their business model. But if there is this constant uncertainty that when the Commission changes, or when they have another rule tha they are going to move the goal posts again, nobody is going to want to have anything to do with this field.
    • 2010, Mike Bradwell, The Reluctant Escapologist: Adventures in Alternative Theatre, London: Nick Hern Books, →ISBN, page 249:
      He had to put down a deposit of sixty grand to secure the theatre and just as he was about to sign the cheque, American Equity moved the goalposts yet again.
    • 2015, Aaron Edlin; Joseph Farrell, “Freedom to Trade and the Competitive Process”, in Roger D. Blair and D. Daniel Sokol, editors, The Oxford Handbook of International Antitrust Economics, volume 1, Oxford: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, section 13.5 (Bundling and Loyalty Pricing), pages 305–306:
      When a practice harmfully moves the goalposts, but does not violate freedom to trade, the ban on "unfair methods of competition" in Section 5 of the FTC Act might be a better fit than the ban on restraints of trade in the Sherman Act.

Alternative forms[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ William Safire (28 October 1990), “On language; moving the goalposts”, in The New York Times[1], archived from the original on 9 September 2017.

Further reading[edit]