P is for Push the Envelope

To be honest, I got stuck with the letter P. Spoilt for choice: so many epic words to take the piss out of: portal, platform, process, paradigm, purposify, productize. How about an expression, I thought. Put out fires?

Or Push the Envelope. Meaning to innovate, to go beyond boundaries. But the more I thought about it, the more it made no sense. Push what envelope? How do you push the envelope? From inside or outside? Is there something pushable inside it?

This is what I found: the original envelope was the mathematical envelope defined as ‘the locus of the ultimate intersections of consecutive curves’. There’s more here.

It entered the mainstream from Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book about the space programme, The Right Stuff: ‘pushing the outside of the envelope’. Wolfe picked it up from aeronautics, where the flight envelope is the description of the upper and lower limits of the various factors that it is safe to fly at, that is, speed, engine power, manoeuvrability, wind speed, altitude etc. By ‘pushing the envelope’, that is, testing those limits, test pilots were able to determine just how far it was safe to go.



The A-Z of Bullshit, Hype and Cool Stuff is part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge 2016

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2 Responses

  1. Very interesting! I’ve wondered where that expression came from. Funny mental image: a bunch of business types around a conference table, pushing envelopes back and forth. How that leads to innovation has escaped me until now.
    @RhondaGilmour from
    Late Blooming Rose

    1. Love your mental image! When I started writing about the expression I realised it didn’t make any sense so decided to check it out. Was quite surprised!

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