Words Built For Speed

The Need For Speed

Speed is something we inherently crave—it’s in our DNA. It might be something modest like making sure you have a speedy commute home, or something major like Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier back in the day.

And then there are words whose essence is accelerated motion. Maybe you’ll catch yourself daydreaming about speed (or lack of it) in today’s bumper-to-bumper commute. Or you’ll admire the profile of a sleek Ferrari as it blows by, musing “how fast can that thing go?” How many of these terms do you know? If you have any you think should be added, quickly zip over to our Facebook or Twitter pages.

Muzzle Velocity

Muzzle velocity is the speed of a projectile as it leaves the muzzle of gun, usually used in feet or meters per second. The average bullet travels 2,500 feet per second, or 1,700 mph. Ever played paintball? The muzzle velocity of a paintball marker (that’s approved for play) is about 300 feet per second. Either way you look at it, that’s fast. It’s probably best to get out of the way.

Bullet Train

The bullet train, aka shinkansen, is a very fast train that connects Honshu, Kyushu, and Hokkaido, the three main islands of Japan. These sleek, spacious trains (and safe—no fatalities in its history) have a top speed of 200 mph and the website Japan-Guide.com notes that most of these trains depart on time to the second, a concept Americans might have a hard time grasping. If you need to get from Point A to Point B in a hurry…they can do that. The French have a similar train known as the TGV.


Four-on-the-floor is a car’s four-speed manual transmission with the gearshift set in the floor between the two front seats. The Beach Boys referenced it in Little Deuce Coupe: “She’s got a competition clutch with a four-on-the-floor.” There’s a non-automotive reference as well. Four-on-the-floor is the name of a rhythmic pattern used in disco and electronic dance music. NPR notes that artists like Adele, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj and Britney Spears have all used it in their music.


Have you ever heard of a whiz bang? It’s a small, high-speed mortar shell “whose sound as it flies through the air arrives almost at the same instant as its explosion.” There are fireworks with the name, too. The word can also be used as a compliment— someone is topnotch, or first-rate. “You did a whiz-bang job on that exam.”


A hot-rod is a car or engine that’s been specifically modified and customized to increase its speed. Do a search on the movie American Graffiti, and its malt shoppe parking lots are full of hot-rods. Typically, you’d see them with bright flame paint jobs on the body. This Americanism only points to classic cars of that genre. In 60 years, will we refer to a 2017 Mazda Miata as a hot-rod? Bookmark this page, and we’ll let you know in 2077.


Hypersonic is a speed beyond conventional mere-mortal comprehension…it’s five times the speed of sound. Staying in hyper-mode for a moment, the Hyperloop form of transportation, currently in testing and development, is a tubelike system that would zip passengers along at a top speed of 760 mph. You’re in San Francisco and have a lunch date in Los Angeles at noon? You can leave the Bay Area around 11:25 in the morning. (That’s normally a six hour trip.) And you won’t need a Fuzzbuster to go 760 mph.

Flank Speed

Flank speed is the maximum top speed of a ship, like a battleship or submarine. This speed is only used in emergency situations. For example, the sub is engaged in combat and the captain says: “Take us deep and go to flank speed.” He means it, too: a translation for landlubbers means the boss wants to submerge the sub and floor it.


This just sounds like a fast word, and it is. A ramjet is a type of jet engine that is operated by injecting fuel into a stream of air that’s compressed by the forward speed of the aircraft. You won’t use it in daily conversation all that much, but it definitely makes the list for fun words to say. See if you can work it into a chant at the next track meet.


The cat-and mouse duel American motorists have with law enforcement is an age-old battle. In 1974, the U.S. government passed the National Maximum Speed Law, locking it down at 55 mph in response to the oil crisis. Sensing an opportunity, companies starting making radar detectors like the Fuzzbuster that would pick up the radar signals of police hiding along the highways, looking to make a high-speed bust. Radar detectors are still in use, but their legality varies from state to state. So before you plug in and peel out, do some research.


No doubt you’ve heard the term mach before, and only knew it meant going really fast. The numerical term indicates the ratio of speed of an object to the speed of sound (in the environment through which the object is traveling). Retro car enthusiasts will remember the Ford Mustang Mach 1 introduced in the late 1960s. The car was fast, true— but not mach speed fast! In that case, the name was all about the marketing. That said, Autotrends reports the car is being reintroduced for the 2018 model year, so we’ll once again be able to go at mach speed, so to speak.

Warp Speed

This one became a thing with the debut of Star Trek. Warp speed means using “spatial or temporal warps to travel interstellar distances.” NASA concludes that this is an impossible concept, “especially when considering Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.” Pesky laws of physics. They also note, quite accurately, that many things once considered impossible have become reality. Now Scotty, get us out of here, we need warp speed now!


The conventional definition of sins is one we all know. In this case, SINS is an acronym that stands for Ship’s Inertial Navigation System. It’s “a gyroscopic device indicating the exact speed and position of a vessel, as indicated by differences in positions over a given period on a given course, as well as the direction of true north.”


From the world of supercomputing, MIPS stands for a Million Instructions Per Second. The MIPS measurement varies according to processor speed. Our definition also includes a derisive hacker meaning, Meaningless Indication of Processor Speed. Hackers can be a dismissive lot.

Megaflops And Teraflops

Here’s more big data terminology for you, to cap us off. Megaflops are a measure of computing speed, equal to one million floating-point operations per second. Desktop computer users, you can’t touch this speed, even if you overclock, which is modifying your computer beyond its normal specs. If you thought megaflops sounds fast, think again. Teraflops are equal to one trillion floating-point operations per second. If you can’t wrap your head around these concepts, don’t worry. Not many of us can.

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