Up to eleven

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The volume knobs of Tufnel's Marshall amplifier went 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".[1]

Original scene from This Is Spinal Tap[edit]

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."[2][3]

Real life[edit]

Prior examples[edit]

C&O's #500 began going up to 11 in 1947.

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!"[4]:110; 252

Cultural influence[edit]

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.[5] 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.[5][6]

Soldano amplifiers, SSL mixing consoles, the BBC's web Flash video players, the headphone volume control on the PreSonus AudioBox 1818VSL, and the Tesla Model S's volume controls have a maximum value of 11.[7]

In 1994 Australian radio network Triple J released a compilation of heavy metal music called Eleven: A Triple J Very Loud Compilation featuring a cover with amps which go up to eleven.[8]

The tachometer on a Singer-modified Porsche 911 goes up to 11 (for 11,000 RPM).[9][10]

On its primary page for the This Is Spinal Tap, IMDb displays the user rating for the film out of 11 stars (e.g. 8.0/11) instead of the standard scale of one to ten.[11][12][13] However, only 10 rating stars are actually shown on the page, and user ratings can only be submitted up to 10 stars. Other IMDb pages, such as the combined detail page (may be displayed by default depending on a logged-in IMDb user's site preferences) and the user ratings page, display a rating out of 10.

In the Doctor Who episode "The Lazarus Experiment", the Doctor uses this phrase while turning up the volume on a pipe organ.

QSC 3500 and 3800 amplifiers made for the pro sound company Sound Image in the 1990s went to 11.

In the 1999 Pixar animation feature Toy Story 2, as the villain Zurg prepares to shoot the hero Buzz Lightyear, he selects his weapon's highest setting, eleven.

On Audio Adrenaline's 1999 album Underdog on the track titled "The Houseplant Song" They say they like to listen to Audio Adrenaline, "Crank to Eleven", referring to this saying.

The photo-sharing Website Flickr has a variety of amusing explanations for what is going on in the background when you ask to upload photographs, one of which is "turning it up to 11".

The opening animation for the game Guitar Hero II shows a guitarist turning up the volume on his amplifier, which is marked with the highest setting of 11. However the 11 is crossed out, and replaced by a handwritten setting of 12.

BBC iPlayer has a maximum volume of 11. This was claimed to be in homage to the film Spinal Tap and the background to this was described by project developer Richard Titus.[14]

In the Tesla Model S, the highest setting for the internal systems including the fan speed, sound system is 11.

See also[edit]