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Push the envelope

中国日报网 2014-02-28 10:28


Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: “Our reason to exist is to push the envelope.”

My comments:

Sounds like a mission statement of a trail blazing high-tech firm.

To paraphrase: We want to challenge conventional wisdom and go beyond the limits of current knowledge and know-how. Our sole purpose is to test the unknown and bring about products that are brave and new.

In short, we will never stop innovating.

Or something like that.

“Push the envelope” is the phrase to learn. The common envelope is that which conceals a letter. But an envelope can be anything that envelops – which covers something up thoroughly and completely. Last week, for instance, Beijing was enveloped in smog.

At any rate, to push the envelope is to wiggle and push from within in order to get out. Originally pushing the envelope is a mathematics term, but never mind that. It’s enough to know that the envelope is a metaphor for the status quo, for existing circumstances, for conventional ideas and wisdom that control our mind and thinking.

To push the envelope therefore is for us to stretch the limits, to go beyond the pale, so to speak, the pale being a fence that, figuratively speaking, closes our body and our minds likewise.

To push the envelope is to try to break through the old mould in the same way a worm breaks out of the cocoon, before flexing its wings and taking to the sky.

To push the envelope is to move into unchartered territories, to get out of the rut and try a less travelled road, to go an extra mile and, hence, discover a brave new world.

One who pushes the envelope is one who thinks outside the box.

This may sound too romantic. Let’s examine the other side of the coin then. First of all, to venture into the unknown involves risks. Second, the brave new world may not be so wonderful once we get used to it. As Mark Twain once remarked, it was wonderful that Christopher Columbus found America, but it would be even more wonderful if he had missed it. If you think from the point of view of American Indians and African slaves, you’ll understand Twain is not entirely off the mark. If we still have a primitive American continent, inhabited by 10 million nature loving American Indians, it’d be just as wonderful, if not more so considering what we currently have – a commercial world dominated by man-made machines such as the Apple gadgets.

I’m not of course against technical innovations – I just want to be reminded from time to time that technical advances not only bring about good things, but also the bad, nuclear weapons, for one example.

Which is why some people say no matter how you push the envelope, it’s still stationery – can’t miss the pun, stationery being pronounced stationary.

Still and all, where our mind is concerned, it’s important to keep pushing the envelope, so that we won’t be always dreaming yesterday’s dreams and talk yesterday’s talk.

In other words, it won’t always be the same old, same old.

Alright, here are media examples of people who push the envelope:

1. Steve Jobs pushed the envelope many times when it came to product design, and the results weren’t always pretty. Here are seven products created under his direction that failed commercially or functionally:

1). Apple III (1981) — The successor to the very popular Apple II was focused on business users and priced accordingly. Unfortunately, the hardware was unreliable. Apple lost the business market to the IBM PC, launched the same year, and a rapidly expanding market of PC clones.

2). Lisa (1983) — The first commercially produced computer with a graphical user interface cost $9,995 when it launched. It quickly fell into the shadow of the cheaper Macintosh, launched a year later.

3). NeXT Computer (1989) — Jobs’ venture after being forced out of Apple created a computer that was in many ways ahead of its time, but in the vein of the Apple III and Lisa, it was also too expensive to catch on with mainstream users….

- 7 products Steve Jobs got wrong, AP, October 6, 2011.

2. A former Obama administration official and campaign surrogate hammered Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on his wealth and taxes on Sunday, accusing him of using sophisticated accounting practices to lessen his tax burden.

“I think what Americans will find is that he pushed the envelope to the edge. He did stuff that simply ordinary Americans won’t be able to relate to,” said Steven Rattner, Obama’s former chief adviser on the auto industry, on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS.

Rattner added that, while he’s familiar with many of the practices Romney used to lessen his tax burden, he doesn’t know “anyone who did everything that he did,” adding that some of the “tricks” Romney used were ones that even Rattner’s friends in private equity didn’t know existed.

“I think it’s going to make Americans recoil, and that’s why I think he’s not releasing those returns,” he said.

- Obama’s Former ‘Car Czar’ Says Romney ‘Pushed the Envelope’ on His Taxes, Yahoo.com, July 23, 2012.

3. Cher jokes she’ll be buried in her famous fishnet bodystocking.

The 67-year-old stage icon shocked the world when she revealed her tattooed backside in the music video for her 1989 hit If I Could Turn Back Time, wearing the undergarment with a thong leotard, heels and a leather jacket.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, the star is proud she can still squeeze into the number.

“People love that I can still wear it on stage. I wore it for my shows in Las Vegas [from 2008 to 2011],” the star boasted to UK newspaper The Sun.

“A friend said to me that a woman is sexy while she can still put on her stockings,” she continued, musing, “I thought, ‘I can do better than that, I can still put on my body stocking’.

“They’ll probably even dress me in it when I’m dead,” she laughed.

Bob Mackie designed the risqué costume, which the singer now admits was “a little bit cheap”.

Looking back, Cher acknowledges the controversial attire paved the way for today’s top pop stars, like Lady Gaga and Christina Aguilera. At the time, she wasn’t trying to blaze a trail, she was simply trying to express herself.

I’ve always pushed the envelope. I pushed it farther than anybody else was pushing it at a time, where I thought, ‘I’m in show business, that’s what you do,’” she said, adding, “We all pave the way for the next generation.

“We all make it a little bit easier for the people coming after.

“But I must say no one really made it easier for me as how I chose to display myself. That was me just being me.”

- Cher: I’ve pushed the envelope, Stuff.co.nz, September 25, 2013.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



Loan shark rate?

Mean street, mean city?

Hat in the ring?

Right of way?

Never really cut out for life in the battlefield?


(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)



Smell the coffee?


Right of way?


Hat in the ring?


Mean street, mean city?


Loan shark rate?

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