high-octane (action)


Senior Member
English (British)
Dear all,

would you generally expect "high-octane" to make reference to a fuel powered event? Or violence?

"Watch high-octane action every week on Motorsport Mundial"

An author describes her books: "My stories feature high-octane adventures full of action, danger, and romance with fearless heroes and bombshell heroines who are tough as nails."

I cannot find a definition of "high octane" that doesn't refer to hydrocarbons!


  • sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    "High octane" is one of those metaphors that has been misused so frequently that nonsense usage has become acceptable and all logic has disappeared.

    "Octane" is a chemical compound, one of many in motor fuels. In high-compression engines, the fuel-air mixture can detonate rather than burn (albeit very rapidly) if the compression. This is called "knocking" or "pinging" and often occurs during acceleration when the engine is attempting to deliver maximum power.

    The industry has developed an "octane" rating system for the anti-knock qualities of gasoline, in which the anti-detonation properties are that which would occur if the fuel were 100 percent octane.

    Back in the 1960s when cars with huge engines were popular, at least in the U.S., gasoline companies offered 100-octane gasoline, achieved primarily through the addition of tetra-ethyl lead. Nowadays, lead has been eliminated and octane ratings of gasoline are substantially lower. The supercharged piston aircraft engines of the 1940s and 50s used aviation gasoline rated as high as 145 octane.

    (Since octane ratings are relative, it should already be obvious that "high-octane" is a meaningless phrase)

    It should be apparent that high-performance engines in motorcars, airplanes, boats etc. need high-octane fuels in order for the fuel to burn properly - but the octane rating has nothing whatsoever to do with the energy content, i.e. power, of the fuel itself.

    Unfortunately the world abounds in clueless authors and advertising writers who misuse the term to mean "high-powered."

    Wikipedia has a broad discussion of octane here.
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