Metal vs. Mettle

First sentence in the August 24, 2012, New York Times review of the movie Premium Rush:

“Pushing pedal to the mettle and its breezily thin, goofy story to the breaking point, ‘Premium Rush’ provides just about all the late summer air-conditioned relief you could hope for.”

Nice opening, critic Manohla Dargis, but what’s up with “pedal to the mettle,” a shortening of push the pedal to the metal? The phrase is a car-based metaphor for doing something as quickly or forcefully as possible (the metal referred to is the bar at the bottom of the footwell beneath the accelerator). The homonyn mettle is steely in its own right, given that it means both “strength of spirit or temperament” and “stamina” – but “metal” it is not.

This malapropism has the feel of having been inflicted by Auto Correct, the ubiquitous (and increasingly imperious) electronic substitute for real, live copyeditors and proofreaders. Talk about driving writers to distraction! A computer may beat a world champion in the game of Chess, but it’s a good bet that software will never conquer the complexities of our language.

3 Responses to Metal vs. Mettle

  • Barry Watkins says:

    You can disable AutoCorrect but you have to be careful not to disable other correction functions you want to keep. I had to get tech support for the right balance.

  • Erik Kowal says:

    At my time/space coordinates, Google already returns ~120,000 hits for “push the pedal to the medal”.

    At least most medals are also made of metal…

    • Fred says:

      Yikes! I’ve never seen this one, but it must only a matter of time till it pops up in something I’m reading.

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