Where Did The Phrase 'Turn It Up To 11' Come From?

"Turn it up to 11" is a phrase, usually said jokingly, meant to encourage playing music at the highest possible volume. Per The Times, the phrase was inducted into "The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary," which claimed to record every English word in usage since 1700, in 2002. Among the other 3,500 words and phrases that made it into the 2002 edition was "tardis," defined as "a time machine or something larger on the inside than it appears on the outside," as made famous by the television show "Dr. Who," and "bunny boiler," defined as "a woman who is vindictive after having been spurned by her lover," an obvious reference to the 1987 movie "Fatal Attraction," which featured that very scene. 

"Up to 11" is defined as "up to maximum volume," and it's generally accepted to have originated with the 1984 mockumentary about a bumbling, over-the-top heavy metal band, "This Is Spinal Tap." The first big screen movie directed by Rob Reiner, it originated as a sketch written by actors Christopher Guest (above, right) and Michael McKean (above, left) when they appeared on the comedy special "The T.V. Show." In a 2014 interview with Flavorwire, Guest noted, "A few years later, we thought, this was fun, why don't we continue doing this. And we were given money to write a script, and we realized about a week later that we couldn't really write what we needed to do — it needed to be done in a more spontaneous way." "This Is Spinal Tap," which also starred Harry Shearer (above, center), was nearly entirely improvised with the help of an outline.

'Well, it's one louder, isn't it?'

One of the jokes in "This Is Spinal Tap" that wasn't improvised, as it required a visual prop, was the scene, available on YouTube, in which Christopher Guest as Spinal Tap's lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel, shows off his custom amp to documentary director Marty DiBergi, played by actual director Rob Reiner. Tufnel proudly points out to DiBergi that "It's very, very special because, if you can see, the numbers all go to 11" (shown above). DiBergi notes that most amps only go up to 10 and asks "Is it any louder?" to which Tufnel answers "Well, it's one louder, isn't it?" When DiBergi asks why not just keep 10 at the top and make it a little louder, Tufnel is struck dumb for a moment, chewing his gum in thought, before guilelessly replying, "These go to 11." A catchphrase was born.

"These go to 11" became such a well-known reference to playing loud music that, as reported by The Guardian, Van Halen guitarist Eddie Van Halen became the first of many musicians to request a customized amp with dials that went up to 11. In the commentary for the laser disc edition of "This Is Spinal Tap," Guest discussed the now famous scene: "Marshall made a special plate for me that went up to 11. Subsequently they have done some ads with me, and now the new amp that they made for me actually goes up to infinity on the dial ... This has been ripped off big time. Almost every amp company now sells knobs that go up to 11."