Up to eleven
"Up to eleven" or "these go to eleven" is an idiom from popular culture, coined in the movie This Is Spinal Tap, which has come to refer to anything being exploited to its utmost abilities, or apparently exceeding them, such as a sound volume control. Similarly, the expression "turning it up to eleven" refers to the act of taking something to an extreme. In 2002 the phrase entered the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary with the definition "up to maximum volume".
Original scene from This Is Spinal Tap
The phrase was coined in a scene from the 1984 mockumentary/rockumentary This Is Spinal Tap by the character Nigel Tufnel, played by Christopher Guest. In this scene Nigel gives the rockumentary's director, Marty DiBergi, played by Rob Reiner, a tour of his stage equipment. While Nigel is showing Marty his Marshall guitar amplifiers, he points out one in particular whose control knobs all have the highest setting of eleven, unlike standard amplifiers, whose volume settings are typically numbered from 0 to 10, believing that this numbering actually increases the volume of the amp ("It's one louder"). When Marty asks why the ten setting is not simply set to be louder, Nigel pauses, clearly confused, before responding, "These go to eleven."
The use of "11" as a maximum predates This Is Spinal Tap by almost forty years. In 1947 the Baldwin Locomotive Works and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway introduced the Chesapeake and Ohio class M1 steam turbine locomotive. The locomotive's throttle included eleven settings, ranging from one (idling) to eleven (full speed). The locomotive's cruising speed was 70 miles per hour (110 km/h), at which point the throttle was on "seven." During a trial run with a reporter from Popular Mechanics aboard, a C&O engineer expressed his dissatisfaction with a local speed limit of 75 miles per hour (121 km/h), noting that he would "Sure like to be able to pull it back to eleven!":110; 252
As a consequence of the film, real bands and musicians started buying equipment whose knobs went up to 11, or even higher, with Eddie Van Halen reputedly being the first to do so. Marshall, the company that provided amplifiers for the film that the custom marked knobs were applied to, now sells amplifiers such as its JCM900 (first sold in 1990) whose knobs are marked from 0 to 20.
QSC 3500 and 3800 amplifiers made for the pro sound company Sound Image in the 1990s went to 11.
- "Tardis lands in dictionary of today" by Alan Hamilton Times Online September 26, 2002
- Memorable Quotes from This Is Spinal Tap IMDB.com
- "The Script to This is Spinal Tap, v3.". Corky.net. 1995-03-01. Retrieved 2011-09-07.
- Railton, Arthur R. (March 1948). "Chessie Has That New Look". Popular Mechanics.
- Karl French (2000-09-22). "The A-Z of Spinal Tap". The Guardian.
- "Eleven". Spinal Tap A to Zed.
- Catalogue National Library of Australia
- "Top Gear drives the mighty Singer 911".
- Top Gear Series 20 Episode 5
- This Is Spinal Tap at the Internet Movie Database