push the envelope

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From push (to continually exert oneself in order to achieve a goal) + the + envelope (set of limitations within which a technological system can perform safely and effectively) (compare flight envelope), referring to the boundary line on a graph of an aircraft’s capabilities, especially those of altitude and speed. The term was popularized by the book The Right Stuff (1979) by the American author and journalist Tom Wolfe (1930–2018) about the pilots engaged in United States postwar research with experimental rocket-powered, high-speed aircraft, and the first Project Mercury astronauts selected for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s human spaceflight program.[1]


  • (Received Pronunciation) IPA(key): /ˌpʊʃ ðiː ˈɛnvələʊp/, /-ˈɒnv(ə)ləʊp/
  • (General American) IPA(key): /ˌpʊʃ ði ˈɛnvəˌloʊp/, /-ˈɑn-/
  • (file)
  • Hyphenation: push the en‧ve‧lope


push the envelope (third-person singular simple present pushes the envelope, present participle pushing the envelope, simple past and past participle pushed the envelope)

  1. (intransitive, idiomatic, originally aeronautics) To go beyond established limits; to pioneer. [from mid 20th c.]
    Synonyms: push the edge of the envelope, stretch the envelope
    They pushed the envelope on pricing derivatives.
    • 1992, Popular Mechanics (volume 169, number 11, page 18)
      Aerial photography was coming into its own, and flying shutterbugs pushed the envelope, striving to outsnap each other.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ to push the envelope, phrase” under “push, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2021; “push the envelope, phrase”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

Further reading[edit]