pass muster

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From pass (to undergo successfully) + muster (military assemblage or review); from 1570s, originally as pass musters.


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˌpɑːs ˈmʌst.ə/
  • (US) IPA(key): /ˌpæs ˈmʌs.tɚ/
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pass muster (third-person singular simple present passes muster, present participle passing muster, simple past and past participle passed muster)

  1. (idiomatic) To meet or exceed a particular standard.
    To get a raise, an employee must pass muster with the boss.
    • 1990 July, Pete Johnson, “A Taste of France in Huntington Beach”, in Orange Coast Magazine:
      Also passing muster were the loin of lamb in a zinfandel sauce and a variation on chicken marsala served with an avocado, tomato and cheese topping.
    • 2006, Simon Lang, While My Guitar Gently Weeps: The Music of George Harrison, Hal Leonard Corporation, published 2006, →ISBN, page 167:
      [George] Harrison's all-American band had passed muster on Dark Horse and were the leading performers of the period []
    • 2009 March, “Field Test: Global Apparel”, in Backpacker:
      Supple yet tough, these nylon pants can take a week of bushwhacking and still pass muster at a dress-code restaurant.
  2. (idiomatic) To adequately pass a formal or informal inspection.
    • 1990 June, Max Carter, “Yoko Ono, Phone Home”, in Spy:
      So while speaking directly to a celebrated stranger may not be possible without first passing muster with a squad of handlers and publicists, you can do the next best thing: dial the famous person's last listed phone number and talk to the lucky, star-dusted citizen who inherited it.
    • 2005, Jeffrey Rosen, “Rosen, J., dissenting”, in Jack M. Balkin, editor, What Roe V. Wade Should Have Said: The Nation's Top Legal Experts Rewrite America's Most Controversial Decision, New York University Press, →ISBN, page 184:
      In any event, the Texas law clearly passes muster under rational basis review, which doesn't presume to grade our citizens' moral judgments as if they were submitted as part of an undergraduate exam in moral philosophy.
    • 2009, Robert Darnton, The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future, PublicAffairs, published 2009, →ISBN, page 25:
      Although I had worked on school newspapers, I did not know what news was — that is, what events would make a story and what combination of words would make it into print after passing muster with the night city editor.

Usage notes[edit]

Most often used in the negative or conditional expressions.


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