In a public statement, I heard the phrase, "shoot for the moon".

We should work hard and play hard. Our product specification should be geared to shoot for the moon.

When do you use shoot for the moon? What is the meaning in the above example?

  • 4
    That can easily be found in dictionaries: Shoot for the moon: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/shoot-for-the-moon
    – user66974
    Oct 9, 2015 at 9:28
  • 1
    "Shoot for the moon" or shoot the moon? What is the context? What have you already looked up? (If it's "shoot the moon", that Wiktionary link shows two diametrically-opposed meanings)
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 9, 2015 at 9:30
  • @AndrewLeach . "We should work hard and play hard.Our product specification should be shoot for the moon".
    – BEPP
    Oct 9, 2015 at 9:35
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    Aim high.(set your goal very high despite the fact that the chances of achieving the goal might not be too good) Oct 9, 2015 at 9:36

2 Answers 2


While it is true that a simple search on the Internet by the author of this question may have provided an answer, the more interesting point this question raises is whether there is any possibility of misinterpretation, and the answer to that is both no and yes.

'Shoot the Moon' was an expression describing the act of what we might today call 'doing a bunk' As the good folk over at Online Etymology Dictionary (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=shoot) explain:

To shoot the moon originally meant "depart by night with ones goods to escape back rent" (1829).

O, 'tis cash makes such crowds to the gin shops roam,
And 'tis cash often causes a rumpus at home;
'Tis when short of cash people oft shoot the moon;
And 'tis cash always keeps our pipes in tune.
Cash! cash! &c.

["The Melodist and Mirthful Olio, An Elegant Collection of the Most Popular Songs," vol. IV, London, 1829]

The Oxford English Dictionary also has:

d. to shoot the moon: to remove household goods by night in order to avoid seizure for rent. (Cf. the older phrase in shove v.1 10 c.) 1836 Comic Almanack Sept. (1870) 63 And lack-a-day! here's Quarter Day; It always comes too soon; So we by night must take our flight, For we must shoot the moon! 1844 Alb. Smith Mr. Ledbury iii, Gradually moving all his things away, and shooting the moon to a friend's lodging. 1882 Besant All Sorts iv, I let his houses... I warned him when shooting of moons seemed likely.

Shoot for the Moon however has a distinct history as an expression of hopeless or sometimes inspired endeavour. But it has deeper roots than we might expect. Shooting at the Moon (with arrows) is a common theme in folk tales as diverse as those of the North American Indians, and those of Vietnam (see: http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TheStarShooter-Tlingit.html and http://www.vietnam-culture.com/vietnamese-legend-shoot-at-the-moon.aspx). In English the term has long usage, as the OED describes (note that tire a la volee is French for 'shoot the Moon'):

f. in certain proverbial phrases. Obs. 1530 Palsgr. 704/2, I shote at all adventures, or at the unhappyest, Je tire a la volée. 1577 F. de L'isle's Legendarie G iij b, Now in making warre against the Protestants, they shotte sundry wayes with owne selfe arrowe. 1624 Massinger Renegado v. iii, Neither can I Be wonne to thinke, but if I should attempt it, I shoote against the Moone.

In the modern Western canon the use of the term can not but have been further inspired by the Jules Verne novel 'From the Earth to the Moon' which portrayed the efforts of a group of ex-Civil War gun manufacturers to blast a man-carrying projectile from the Earth to the Moon.

The Verne novel (which included some solid science) was first published in 1865, but it reached a far wider audience in the very early film, Georges Méliès' A Trip to the Moon, in 1902. The eventual success of the Apollo moon shots had the paradoxical effect of turning a phrase that clearly suggested the impossibility of the notion, indeed even the foolishness of it, into one that suggested that with sufficient will the impossible was possible. Curiously Google's nGram viewer suggest a peak in the very early 1900's, and a resurgence in the 1950's onwards. See: http://tinyurl.com/oam9uax

But clearly in the case of the original question posed here, the sense of 'shooting the Moon' is not meant to suggest futile endeavour, as was the traditional interpretation of the phrase, but rather to suggest the promise of astronomical success following the appropriate effort.

  • An entirely off-topic unhelpful but irresistible explanation of the term is also found here: explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php/1291:_Shoot_for_the_Moon
    – John Mack
    Oct 9, 2015 at 12:15
  • You are actually making your own question. and giving your own answer. Speculative contribution?
    – user66974
    Oct 9, 2015 at 13:01
  • Oh I don't know. It is a reasonable assumption the original questioner is of South Indian origin and if he were to search out the phrase in a dictionary or on the internet he might stumble upon any of the three interpretations that I found readily enough (eg 'do a runner', 'futile endeavour' or 'successful endeavour with effort'). Nothing speculative about the sources - except the nGram which (as has been discussed elsewhere) is an unreliable tool in the hands of a fool.
    – John Mack
    Oct 9, 2015 at 13:09
  • Sorry, I should have said 'of South Asian origin'. Put it down to tiredness.
    – John Mack
    Oct 10, 2015 at 11:26

In trick-taking card games, such as Hearts, Spades and Euchre, "Shoot the moon" is a description for an end condition where one player or team has performed a difficult task of ending the round having taken a threshold number or all point cards in their tricks.

Depending on the game, it could be a declared "bid" or an end condition that emerges.

These games often have a preparation phase, where the player must employ strategy to choose which cards to pass and which cards to keep.

Both of these are situations where the involved person has to make a decision whether they will attempt the difficult task to "shoot the moon" and then can make certain design decisions (such as passing cards or how a team player will support a partner bid).

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