What does ‘pushing the envelope’ mean? | Explore | Awesome Activities & Fun Facts | CBC Kids

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What does ‘pushing the envelope’ mean?


Idioms are helpful everyday expressions we use to help get our points across. The words are not meant to be taken literally, but mean something else all together. For example, “I’m in a real pickle” actually means “I’m in trouble.”  Makes sense - when was the last time you found yourself inside an actual pickle?

Even though we use idioms around the clock, most of us never give a second thought about where they come from, or who coined these famous phrases. In this series, we will explore these funny expressions and what they really mean. Let’s begin...

Pushing The Envelope

The idiom “pushing the envelope” gets its very literal meaning from stuffing a mail envelope so full that it pushes and stretches outwards. Today, it means testing the boundaries of a situation.

The expression became popular with test pilots of the 50s and 60s who were asked to “push the envelope” of their planes by flying faster and higher than any known safety limits.

Yikes! I’m not sure about you, but I’ll stick to pushing the envelope the good old fashioned way… by overstuffing mail.