Cliché of the Day: Push the Envelope

February 1, 2018

Why would anyone push an envelope? What has the envelope ever done to you? Why not pull the envelope and push your weight? 

“Push the envelope is yet another cliché promoting violence, although it’s not as aggressive as throwing someone under the bus.

You may be surprised to learn that the “envelope” in this case isn’t made of paper. According to The Phrase Finder, “The envelope here isn’t the container for letters, but the mathematical envelope, which is defined as ‘the locus of the ultimate intersections of consecutive curves’. In a two-dimensional example, the set of lines described by the various positions of a ladder sliding down a wall forms an envelope - in this case an arc, gently curving away from the intersection of the wall and floor. Inside that envelope you will be hit by the ladder; outside you won’t.” 

Does that clear things up for you? Me neither. Math was my best subject growing up, but that was a long time ago. 

Envelopes, whether they’re containers for letters or loci of ultimate intersections of consecutive curves, should not be pushed without just cause. 

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