Four fun phrases with hidden aviation origins

An idiom makes its way into every day use to sum up situations. Break a leg means good luck for stage performers, beat around the bush is to avoid tackling a sticky situation head on and so on and so forth. And new words are formed all the time as language evolves and new ways to describe things are launched into everyday vernacular. Here’s four fun words and phrases with aviation origins that you might not expect.

Push the envelope

Commonly used as shorthand for testing limits or going beyond known boundaries, the phrase pushing the envelope is not rooted in stationery but in pilot parlance. Originally a mathematics term, it became part of aviation vernacular as the envelope referred to the entirety of an aircraft’s limitations. It was then further popularized by its use in The Right Stuff, where test pilots would push the envelope of an aircraft’s capabilities.


No way gremlin is a modern term. This must be from medieval times, right? Well, goblin is from way, way back but its close cousin, gremlin was popularized during World War II by the Royal Air Force as a fictional, mischievous source of unexplained engine troubles or mechanical issues. The word became entrenched in popular culture through a Marvel comic book character and of course one of the finest films of the 80s.

Ahead of the Curve

Used commonly to describe someone or something that is advanced beyond their peers or counterparts, the earliest confirmed use of the phrase is found in the physics of aviation, as a literal meaning to describe aircraft instability when a pilot flies ahead of the power curve. Statistics and graphs may also hold the key to this phrase but historical use places its origins in aviation terms.  


One of Oxford Dictionary’s Words of the Year in 2020, Zoom took off in usage as remote work and online socializing became the norm through a period that was anything but. The word zoom became widespread use when aviators began using it circa 1917 to describe aircraft buzzing by quickly and closely.