Up to eleven
"Up to eleven", also phrased as "turn it up to eleven", is an idiom from popular culture, coined in the 1984 movie This Is Spinal Tap, where guitarist Nigel Tufnel proudly demonstrates an amplifier whose volume knobs are marked from zero to eleven, instead of the usual zero to ten. The primary implication of the reference is one in which things that are essentially the same are seen as different, due to mislabeling or the user's misunderstanding of the underlying operating principles. A secondary reference may be anything being exploited to its utmost limits, or apparently exceeding them.
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 a selection whose control knobs all have a highest setting of eleven, unlike standard amplifiers whose volume settings are typically numbered from 0 to 10. Believing that this numbering increases the highest volume of the amp, he explains, "It's one louder, isn't it?" When Marty asks why not simply make the 10 setting louder, Nigel hesitates before responding blankly again, "These go to eleven".
The use of "11" as a maximum pre-dates 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 M-1 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 (113 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
In quality equipment multipole switches are sometimes used for volume controls, usually with 23 detents, wired with a resistor chain. These give 23 positions with the first being silent, so were numbered 0-11 (0-22 is impractical). Potentiometers give a much more finely adjustable volume, but the same numbering was used. This is how Marshall amplifiers came to have controls numbered 0-11.
All teams in racing have various modes and settings that they switch to depending on the necessary strategy of the race. From time to time teams will use special phrases or keywords to describe the modes. The Red Bull Racing team in Formula 1 refers its drivers over the radio to "Mode 11", which is an engine mode that unlocks the full power of the engine, encouraging the driver to challenge the cars ahead.
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. The QSC 3500 and 3800 amplifiers made for the professional sound company Sound Image in the 1990s went to 11, as do amps from Soldano and Friedman.
Other controls with a maximum of 11 include SSL mixing consoles, Amazon Alexa, the BBC's iPlayer on demand video player, the headphone volume control on the PreSonus AudioBox 1818VSL, the volume control on the Apogee Mini-DAC, the IRIX audio panel (when invoked with the undocumented -spinaltap option), and the Tesla Model S's volume control. The tachometer on a Singer Vehicle Design modified Porsche 911 goes up to 11, representing 11,000 RPM.
On its primary page for This Is Spinal Tap, the IMDb displays the user rating for the film out of 11 stars (e.g. 7.9/11) instead of the standard scale of one to ten. 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 display the rating out of 10.
The influence of the phrase "up to eleven" is such that it has been used outside of music; in 2016, for example, astronomer Krzysztof Stanek described the brightest-known object in the universe as being "as if nature took everything we know about magnetars and turned it up to 11."
In Android 11, the ubiquitous version information animation also depicts a retro dial, with 10 divisions represented as dots. As you turn it beyond the 10 divisions, the 11th division is displayed as a number.
- Loudest band in the world
- Loudness war
- Red line (phrase), "a limit past which safety can no longer be guaranteed"
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The only movie on IMDb that is rated out of 11 stars.
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