push the envelope

envelope

[en-vuh-lohp, ahn-]
noun
1.
a flat paper container, as for a letter or thin package, usually having a gummed flap or other means of closure.
2.
something that envelops; a wrapper, integument, or surrounding cover.
3.
Biology. a surrounding or enclosing structure, as a corolla or an outer membrane.
4.
Geometry. a curve or surface tangent to each member of a set of curves or surfaces.
5.
Radio. (of a modulated carrier wave) a curve connecting the peaks of a graph of the instantaneous value of the electric or magnetic component of the carrier wave as a function of time.
6.
the fabric structure enclosing the gasbag of an aerostat.
7.
the gasbag itself.
8.
Electronics. the airtight glass or metal housing of a vacuum tube.
9.
the technical limits within which an aircraft or electronic system may be safely operated.
Idioms
10.
push the envelope, to stretch established limits, as in technological advance or social innovation.
Also, envelop.


Origin:
1700–10; < French enveloppe, derivative of envelopper to envelop

envelop, envelope.
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
envelope (ˈɛnvəˌləʊp, ˈɒn-)
 
n
1.  a flat covering of paper, usually rectangular in shape and with a flap that can be folded over and sealed, used to enclose a letter, etc
2.  any covering or wrapper
3.  biology any enclosing structure, such as a membrane, shell, or skin
4.  the bag enclosing the gas in a balloon
5.  maths a curve or surface that is tangent to each one of a group of curves or surfaces
6.  electronics the sealed glass or metal housing of a valve, electric light, etc
7.  telecomm the outer shape of a modulated wave, formed by the peaks of successive cycles of the carrier wave
8.  informal push the envelope to push the boundaries of what is possible
 
[C18: from French enveloppe, from envelopper to wrap around; see envelop; sense 8 from aeronautics jargon, referring to graphs of aircraft performance]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Etymonline
Word Origin & History

envelope
1705, from Fr. enveloppe, a back-formation of envelopper "to envelop" (see envelop).
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Medical Dictionary

envelope en·ve·lope (ěn'və-lōp', ŏn'-)
n.
An enclosing structure or cover, such as a membrane or the outer coat of a virus.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

push the envelope

Exceed the limits of what is normally done, be innovative, as in They are pushing the envelope in using only new fabrics for winter clothing. This idiom comes from aviation, the envelope alluding to the technical limits of a plane's performance, which, on a graph, appear as a rising slope as limits of speed and stress are approached and falls off when the capacity is exceeded and the pilot loses control; safety lies within these limits, or envelope, and exceeding them exposes pilot and plane to risk. [Slang; late 1960s]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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