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pushing the envelope
Posted: 28 April 2007 11:54 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I remember this phrase from The Right Stuff (book and movie) where, as I recall, it was either ‘pushing the outside (or the edge?) of the envelope’ which makes a lot more sense than the now universally used ‘pushing the envelope’.
Is the expression from test pilots going faster and faster via Tom Wolfe’s book?
Writers, in parrotting ‘pushing the envelope’, aren’t really thinking the metaphor through as far as I can see.
What do you think?
(Thanks for a great site by the way!)

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Posted: 28 April 2007 12:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Yes, it’s from aviation; see the entry in the Big List (which, I nag again, should be linked prominently on the forum front page).

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Posted: 28 April 2007 12:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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You must be the evil twin of Sanctus Bede.

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but the answer is at your fingertips under the “Big List” heading on the main page. Look in the p’s.  edit: Well, never mind. Pipped by languagehat.

BTW, Dave, there may be a typo for envelope (envelop) in one of the offset quotes.

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Posted: 28 April 2007 12:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Sorry, not an auspicious start, though I did type ‘pushing the envelope’ in search on the general discussion page first!
Now checking Big List. Thanks

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Posted: 28 April 2007 12:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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foolscap - 28 April 2007 12:08 PM

BTW, Dave, there may be a typo for envelope (envelop) in one of the offset quotes.

Nope; the verb is spelled without the final e.  To en-VEL-op or to wrap.

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Posted: 28 April 2007 12:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Thanks. Spelling has never been one of my fortays.

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Posted: 28 April 2007 03:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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My pleisure.

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Fregt mikh bekheyrem!
~ Shmegege

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Posted: 29 April 2007 06:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Nope, the quote in question uses the noun, not the verb. But the quote is transcribed accurately. I just added a “sic”.

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Posted: 29 April 2007 11:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Then there was the infamous WWII newspaper headline: ‘8th Army push bottles up Germans’.

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Posted: 29 April 2007 03:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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24450239 - 29 April 2007 11:02 AM

‘8th Army push bottles up Germans’.

Funny in UK English.  Not funny in US English.

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Posted: 29 April 2007 04:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I was wondering why I didn’t get it ...

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Posted: 29 April 2007 11:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Faldage - 29 April 2007 03:50 PM

24450239 - 29 April 2007 11:02 AM
‘8th Army push bottles up Germans’.

Funny in UK English.  Not funny in US English.

I’m puzzled as to why not.  OK, I’m a Brit, but can’t “push” be read in this context as a verb or a noun both sides of the pond?

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Posted: 30 April 2007 03:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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In this context “push” can only be a noun in Lower Transpondia.  In the verb sense the line would read “8th Army pushes bottles up Germans.”

A similar construction that might not be considered funny in UK English would be “British left waffles on Falklands.”

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Posted: 30 April 2007 05:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Faldage - 30 April 2007 03:31 AM

In this context “push” can only be a noun in Lower Transpondia.  In the verb sense the line would read “8th Army pushes bottles up Germans.”

Oh, thanks Faldage!  The mass noun issue!

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Posted: 30 April 2007 12:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Oecolampadius - 30 April 2007 05:13 AM

Oh, thanks Faldage!  The mass noun issue!

Do I take it from that, that this is an issue that has been covered before in Wordorigins?  If so, I’d be interested in reading the thread.

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Posted: 30 April 2007 01:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I don’t think “mass noun” is the best description of what’s going on here, but it’s another example of how British English and American English differ in how they treat groups (especially of people) with names that are singular in form: collective nouns.  British English often considers them as grammatically plural, and gives them a plural verb.

“Arsenal are going to win tomorrow.” vs. “Detroit is going to win tomorrow.”

“Scotland Yard are looking for him.” “The FBI is looking for him.”

The alternate meaning of the headline (that the 8th Army is/are pushing bottles up Germans) doesn’t come readily to a US speaker, because “Army” would require “pushes”, not “push” as a verb, as Faldage notes.

Differences between Britspeak and Yankspeak were discussed ad nauseam on the old site, especially back when wordgeek had a habit of making an issue out of common British spellings and expressions that he claimed never to have encountered before. (For that matter, he often made an issue of common American expressions that he claimed never to have encountered before.  He was Not From Around Here.)

Here’s one old discussion.

[ Edited: 30 April 2007 05:59 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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