Nothing's more annoying than a know-it-all who ruins a good time by telling you what words actually mean. Yes, I know parsec is a unit of distance, and the Millenium Falcon couldn't possibly have made the Kessel Run in however many of them, but I don't care. Fine. It's wrong, I'm wrong, Star Wars is wrong, and I heard the Force isn't real, either.

No one likes that guy. That pedant. That's a guy who gets his hoagie smacked out of his hand because he won't shut his yap. But now I'm going to be that guy, because sometimes a word is so misused, is so consistently and exuberantly mistreated I feel like I have to take a stand.

That word is overdrive.


Think about the word "overdrive." Think of all the times you've heard it. What are you picturing? If you're like most people, you're picturing some dude, probably in a helmet, screaming "TIME TO KICK IT INTO OVERDRIVE!" or some similar shit while smacking a button or flipping a switch or pulling a lever or jamming his gloved hand into a glowing orb. Then, shit gets real as whatever he was doing before is now getting done ten times faster, louder, explosionier, whatever. In popular culture, overdrive means maximum hyper-everything, right fucking now!

Hell, even the staid Free Dictionary (idioms section) gets a bit turgid talking about "shifting into overdrive" saying: to start working very hard, or to start doing something in an excited way.


The reality? It means the exact opposite. "Overdrive" isn't just misused, it's completely inverted. If actual "overdrive" and common-use "overdrive" could be put in a reactor and collided, you could power a spaceship from the meaning/anti-meaning reaction.

The term "overdrive" comes from the automotive world, of course, where it means a gear ratio higher than 1:1, so, after a certain speed is reached, that speed can be maintained with a minimum of engine effort and wear. It's used most commonly on the highway for more relaxed, efficient travel at speed.

I suppose there are other contexts of "overdrive" where it actually does push something beyond normal limits, like an amplifier, but this is an automotive site. You can all try to convince me this is what people mean by the word in the comments, but I won't believe you.

So, understanding what "overdrive" means, the next time you see a snarling, muscled hero scream about kicking it into OVERDRIVE, you should think of him screaming, "LET'S KICK THIS BABY INTO COMFORTABLE QUIET RELAXATION MODE! YEEEEEEHAAAAAA!" And then some Enya would start playing softly in the background as the hero gets a good book and snuggles up with his puppy, Pickles.

So, movies like MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE? Think of it as MAXIMUM EFFICIENCY. Or that Loverboy song, Lovin' Every Minute Of It? wouldn't those lyrics be better served as

Oh, You want me to come alive
Just flick the switch into leisurely cruising mode
You and me can let it be

The consequences aren't as dire as the inflammable/flammable confusion, but you gotta draw a line in the sand somewhere. And mine's here: stop using "overdrive" wrongly, peoples of Earth. Let's reintroduce it as a term consistent with what it actually means, so I can finally relax, put my feet up, and glide into overdrive with a smile on my face.