4.1224 Rs: Pushing the Envelope (7/183)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Thu, 11 Apr 91 00:20:49 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 1224. Thursday, 11 Apr 1991.

(1) Date: Wed, 10 Apr 91 18:37:13 EDT (54 lines)
From: Richard Ristow <AP430001@BROWNVM>
Subject: Replies: Envelope

(2) Date: Tue, 9 Apr 91 23:31:27 EDT (30 lines)
From: Ed Haupt <haupt@pilot.njin.net>
Subject: pushing the envelope

(3) Date: Wed, 10 Apr 91 07:46:36 LCL (37 lines)
From: "Dana Cartwright, Syracuse U. 443-4504" <DECARTWR@SUVM>
Subject: Edge of the Envelope

(4) Date: Wed, 10 Apr 91 08:04:49 PDT (15 lines)
From: Arnold Keller <AKELLER@UVVM.UVic.CA>
Subject: Re: 4.1219 Queries (5/162)

(5) Date: Wed, 10 Apr 91 13:14:57 EDT (23 lines)
From: Stephen Spangehl <SDSPAN01@ULKYVM>
Subject: 4.1219 Queries (5/162)

(6) Date: 10 April 1991, 13:13:03 EST (11 lines)
Subject: pushing the envelope

(7) Date: Wed, 10 Apr 91 14:38:57 CDT (13 lines)
From: rsw@wubios.wustl.edu (Bob Woodward)
Subject: "Pushing the envelope"

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 10 Apr 91 18:37:13 EDT
From: Richard Ristow <AP430001@BROWNVM>
Subject: Replies: Envelope

On Tue, 9 Apr 91 10:11 EDT "Beverly B. Madron" <MADRON@ZODIAC.BITNET>
>(1) Where did the phrase "pushing the envelope" originate?

This is educated conjecture rather than researched --

I've taken it to be from engineering slang. One engineering use of
"envelope" is "the limits of performance to which [something] can be
brought". The image comes from a legitimate mathematical use of the
term. Imagine a piece of graph paper on which are a set of curves
each of which gives, say, the range plotted against the load carried,
for a set of variations on an aircraft design:

! . . .
R ! .
a ! o o oo.o o
n ! . o
g ! . o
e ! . o
! . o

Here the "." line represents a variation designed for range at the
expense of load-carrying ability, and the "o" line one designed for load.
The extreme range of performance of the while type is the "envelope"
of the best performance of ANY variant:

!+ +
! . . +
R ! . +
a ! o o oo.o o+
n ! . o+
g ! . o +
e ! . o +
! . o +

"Pushing" has the sense of "going beyond what comes easily", with the
visual image of physically forcing the curve farther out on the graph
paper -- hence, "pushing the envelope" == "attempting to go beyond
what can be done with our techniques as we now understand them".
The term may have come into popular use through military aviators, who
use it to mean "working to get the most possible, and perhaps a little
more, out of an aircraft", having in turn borrowed it from engineers.


(2) --------------------------------------------------------------39----
Date: Tue, 9 Apr 91 23:31:27 EDT
From: Ed Haupt <haupt@pilot.njin.net>
Subject: pushing the envelope

I'm pretty sure that I understand where the metaphor comes from but I
won't guarantee it. It comes from aircraft performance by test pilots,
and I guess if you were to look in *the right stuff* you'd probably find

The performance that is possible for an aircraft is limited. It can only
fly so fast, it can only fly so slowly, or else it crashes. It can only
fly up to a certain altitude, it can only have its wings within a certain
limited range of degree positions, etc. The multi-dimensional space in
which it is thus possible for an airplane to fly is some sort of unvisual-
izable multi-dimensional polygon, which was frequently described as the
envelope (metaphor of enclosing) of performance.

Back to *the right stuff*. Test pilots are slightly crazy. They want the
airplane, etc. to do more than the specifications say. They would like to
fly a little faster, higher, etc., and thus "push" the "envelope" to be
a little larger, get a little more performance.

Did you ever wonder w];z*yhere "kludge" came from?

Edward J. Haupt voice: (201) 893-4327
Department of Psychology internet: haupt@pilot.njin.net
Montclair State College bitnet: haupt@njin
Upper Montclair, NJ 07043

(3) --------------------------------------------------------------44----
Date: Wed, 10 Apr 91 07:46:36 LCL
From: "Dana Cartwright, Syracuse Univ, 315-443-4504" <DECARTWR@SUVM>
Subject: Edge of the Envelope

Beverly Madron asks about the phrase "pushing the envelope" which she
sees increasingly in the media (I have not personally observed this
happening). I hope the media folks are actually saying "pushing the
edge of the envelope," which would be the correct usage.

I assume this is yet one more example of military jargon, especially
pilot's jargon, entering the language, probably due to the large role played
by pilots in the recent US-Iraq war.

Any high-performance vehicle (aircraft and race cars come to mind) has
limits beyond which one hesitates to push it, because there tends to be a
sharply defined transition from desireable to undesireable behavior (in
a race car, going around a corner faster than everyone else is good, but
going just slightly faster than the car can tolerate leads to sliding
off into the wall. The difference in speed is slight, but the difference
in outcomes is enormous). Putting it more abstractly, there is a region
of instability where a slight change in some parameter (cornering speed,
in the case of the race car) leads to an enormous change in results (winning
versus crashing).

This leads naturally enough to the idea that there is a "safe" operating
region and an "unsafe" operating region, with a sharply defined boundary.
The idea is to always stay "inside" the safe region, but nonetheless
one wants to operate as close as possible to the edge of the region. Pilots
refer to an "envelope" which encloses the safe region, and thus "pushing
the edge of the envelope" refers to a highly skilled pilot who is able to
operate at the extreme limits of the possible performance of the aircraft.
Race car drivers speak of "driving on the edge"--not meaning driving on the
edge of the track, but rather on the edge of the performance space.

If you drop out the "edge of" and just say "pushing the envelope," you
seem to get into another area of pilot's complaints: excessive paperwork.
Presumably not what the media folks are speaking about.
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------21----
Date: Wed, 10 Apr 91 08:04:49 PDT
From: Arnold Keller <AKELLER@UVVM.UVic.CA>
Subject: Re: 4.1219 Queries (5/162)

In response to Beverly Madron: "Pushing the envelope" seems to be
connected with early supersonic flight. I'm not sure if the
envelope has to do with the kind of image one gets on flight
instruments that would be roughly comparable to the sound
"envelope" of electronic musical instruments. The expression itself
gets an airing, I dimly remember, in Tom Wolfe's *The Right
Stuff*--again, that's what I dimly remember without having the
book in front of me.

Arnie Keller
University of Victoria
(5) --------------------------------------------------------------30----
Date: Wed, 10 Apr 91 13:14:57 EDT
From: Stephen Spangehl <SDSPAN01@ULKYVM>
Subject: 4.1219 Queries (5/162)

Regarding Bev Madron's queries: "pushing the envelope" occurs in <The Right
Stuff> in reference to breaking the sound barrier; I assume Wolfe got it from
areonautical engineering, where it must be used to describe the limits or
boundaries of an existing system. A similar use of "envelope" occurs today in
talk about sounds and waves, where the overall shape of a waveform (onset,
offset, overtones) is its "envelope." There may be eariler uses; I vaguely
remember the phase being used in a 1950's sci-fi-ish film about exploring the
upper atmosphere in the X-15.
As to "on line," we native New Yorkers never say anything else; my parents,
who learned their English on the streets of Brooklyn in the period 1900-1920
always said "on line" too. Parking signs in NY say "No Parking on this Street"
but in Philadelphia they say "in this Street." I think Fillmore discusses the
difference in the dimensionality of this preposition (2-D vs. 3-D conceptions
of streets) in "Studies in Deixis."

Stephen D. Spangehl +---------------+
University of Louisville | SDSPAN01 @ |
Louisville, Kentucky 40292 | ULKYVM.BITNET |
(502) 588-7289 or (502) 245-0319 +---------------+

(6) --------------------------------------------------------------12----
Date: 10 April 1991, 13:13:03 EST
Subject: pushing the envelope
Subject: pushing the envelope
It was popularized by Tom Wolfe in *The Right Stuff*. I remember being
puzzled by the term even as it was used by Chuck Yeager in the book, but
it meant something like pushing the test airplane to the limits of its
endurance and the limits of the pilot's endurance and capabilities. The
envelope, as I remember it, was the envelope of space, but exactly how
one can push an envelope I have never been able to visualize. Any more
takers? Roy Flannagan

(7) --------------------------------------------------------------28----
Date: Wed, 10 Apr 91 14:38:57 CDT
From: rsw@wubios.wustl.edu (Bob Woodward)
Subject: "Pushing the envelope"

I believe "pushing the envelope" originates from the land of high
performance ("Top Gun") aircraft. The "envelope" refers to the set of
maximum feasible combinations of altitude and speed attainable with any
particular aircraft. As technology has increased the speeds possible at
any given altitude and/or allowed planes to fly higher, we say the
"envelope has been pushed out." I've seen an article describing this
"envelope" in something like Scientific American or High Technology within
the last few years, but fail to recall any detailed bibliographic