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What Does It Mean to Do Something "Full Throttle"?

Jim B.
Jim B.

“Full throttle” is an English idiom which means that someone is doing something at maximum effort and with great speed. This phrase gets its origin from the practice of pilots, who, when they push the throttle all the way down, make the aircraft move at its maximum speed. When “full throttle” is used in situations not involving a plane, it means that someone is not holding back anything at all in terms of effort. In certain circumstances, this idiom can also suggest a complete lack of abandon which can lead to a potentially damaging situation.

Idioms are used in the English language by speakers looking to add bits of color and expressiveness to speech that might otherwise be dull. They are generally short phrases which can have meanings much different that what the literal definitions of the included words might imply. This is because the meanings have likely grown over time through usage to the point where they are understood by everyone in the culture. One phrase that has its origins in the world of aircraft is the expression “full throttle.”

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

It was often the case for fighter pilots in World War II to fly at extreme speeds to try and evade enemy fire. On occasions like those, a pilot would take the throttle and push it all the way to the limit of its reach. At that point, the plane was said to be at “full throttle,” and it was at its maximum level in terms of speed.

In its daily use, the phrase tends to imply not only that someone is doing something fast, but also that he or she is expending full effort to do it. It is often used as a compliment to honor someone who is working extremely hard at completing a task. The phrase can imply that something is being done to its limits with nothing left to spare. As an example, someone might say, “I didn’t think he could get it done in time, but he worked full throttle for two weeks straight.”

Although the phrase is generally meant as a compliment, there are times when a person using it might be slightly scolding the person being described in this manner. The lack of restraint implied by this phrase can also, at times, be connected to a lack of subtlety or an absence of forethought. In this context, someone might say, “He always goes full throttle without ever thinking about the consequences.”

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Discussion Comments


Whenever I hear the expression "full throttle", I think of the last few minutes of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986. I lived near the Marshall Space Flight Center at the time, and an engineer who actually worked on the shuttle program told me that "go with throttle up" was essentially a command to put the pedal to the metal. The shuttle would have been going at 104% power at that time. The explosion happened right when the shuttle was flying at "full throttle".

The few times I've ever gone full out in a car or on a motorcycle, I've always felt like I was riding on the edge between life and death. If anything was going to happen, it was going to happen fast. I can't say I understand a "full throttle" mentality, but I know there are times when a person just has to take a risk and floor it. As the kids say, go big or go home.


I had a cousin who did everything "full throttle". As a kid, I thought he was the coolest guy on the planet. He raced stock cars on the weekends, and he was always working on a motorcycle when I came over. He'd take me out for a joy ride in one of his souped-up cars and I thought I was going to die a few times. He'd floor the gas pedal every chance he got. Everything was either 0 or 100 with him, no in-betweens.

He died in a car crash in his early 30s, and I heard about it from someone who was there when it happened. My cousin was hiding a few addictions from the rest of us, and he was really too messed up to get behind a wheel. He did it anyway, and was still at full throttle when he left the road. Some people just live their lives like that.

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