push the envelope


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en·ve·lope

 (ĕn′və-lōp′, ŏn′-)
n.
1. A flat paper container, especially for a letter, usually having a gummed flap.
2. Something that envelops; a wrapping.
3. Biology An enclosing structure or cover, such as a membrane or the outer coat of a virus.
4. The bag containing the gas in a balloon or airship.
5. The set of limitations within which a technological system, especially an aircraft, can perform safely and effectively.
6. Astronomy
a. A usually spherical region of interstellar matter surrounding a forming star and interacting with the star's gravitational and radiation fields.
b. The coma of a comet.
7. Mathematics A curve or surface that is tangent to every one of a family of curves or surfaces.
Idiom:
push the envelope
To exceed or try to exceed the existing limits of a discipline or activity.

[French enveloppe, from envelopper, to envelop, from Old French envoloper; see envelop.]
Usage Note: Some people dislike the pronunciation (ŏn′və-lōp′), arguing that it is pretentious for being pseudo-French and that it is unnecessary, since there is a perfectly acceptable Anglicized pronunciation, (ĕn′və-lōp′). But the pronunciation with (ŏn) is gaining in acceptability: in our 1992 survey, 30 percent of the Usage Panel used it exclusively, and another 9 percent used it occasionally; by 2011, 46 percent selected it as their preferred pronunciation. Both forms should be considered standard.
References in periodicals archive ?
The Bush administration is clearly trying to push the envelope on behalf of prayer in public schools," said AU's Lynn.
The Film Board has always been here to push the envelope, to push the film language, and this is where we excel, what we are good at.
I don't push the envelope just for the sake of pushing the envelope.
It was this willingness to push the envelope with the structure, style, and content of the Talk stories that first gained Kincaid attention in literary circles.