set the bar: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘set the bar’ mean?

The idiom "set the bar" means to establish a standard or expectation that others should strive to meet or exceed.

Idiom Explorer


One common idiom related to "set the bar" is "raise the bar". This phrase is often used to express the act of increasing a standard or expectation. When someone raises the bar, they are setting a higher level of achievement that others should strive to reach. It signifies a desire for improvement and can inspire individuals to push themselves beyond their previous limits.

On the other hand, there is also the idiom "lower the bar". This expression is used when someone sets a lower standard or expectation. It implies a decrease in the level of achievement required and can suggest a lack of ambition or effort. Lowering the bar can sometimes be seen as taking the easy way out and not pushing oneself to reach their full potential.

The bar for meeting the standard expectation is high.

Another related idiom is "measure up". When someone is asked to measure up, it means they are being evaluated against a certain standard or expectation. It reflects the idea of being compared to others or to a benchmark, often in terms of performance or achievement. Individuals who measure up are deemed to have met or exceeded the established criteria, while those who fall short may need to work harder to reach the desired level.

Similarly, the idiom "move the goalposts" is used to describe a situation where the rules or criteria for achieving a certain goal are changed or made more difficult. This idiom suggests that the goalposts have been shifted, making it harder for individuals to meet the established standard. It can denote a sense of unfairness or frustration when expectations are constantly changing.

Lastly, we have the idiom "make the grade". This phrase is often used in educational settings to describe whether a student has met a certain level of achievement or performance. It suggests that individuals are being evaluated against a standard and that they must prove themselves to be capable or successful. Making the grade signifies meeting the necessary requirements and being considered competent or proficient in a particular subject or skill.

The idiom "set the bar" originated from track and field, but has since evolved to become a widely used expression in various domains. It symbolizes the act of establishing a standard or expectation, and it can be related to other idioms such as "raise the bar", "lower the bar", "measure up", "move the goalposts", and "make the grade". These idioms all revolve around the concept of setting and evaluating standards, reflecting the human desire for excellence and recognition.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom "set the bar" can be used in a sentence:

  • John's impressive presentation set the bar high for future speakers.
  • The new company policy on customer service sets the bar for excellence in the industry.
  • Athlete's record-breaking performance has raised the bar for all competitors.

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