Click any word in a definition or example to find the entry for that word
driving a vehicle in a way that reduces the amount of fuel you use
'I haven't tried full-on hypermiling in the van because that style of driving, which sometimes includes coasting along at ridiculously low speeds, seems too inconsiderate toward other drivers.'Wall Street Journal 13th December 2010
'Hypermilers … These are drivers who go to amazing – some might even say obsessive – lengths to make their cars travel as far as possible on the least amount of fuel.'The Sun 7th August 2008
'If at all possible, avoid driving on windy days, especially if you're taking a long drive on the highway. If the weather's rainy or snowy, you won't be able to hypermile as efficiently …'wikihow.com 2nd November 2010
Against a background of rising oil prices, increased fuel taxes and a 2.5 per cent hike in VAT, there's never been a better time to consider hypermiling. Before you start conjuring up images of fast cars and gas guzzling speeds on the motorway, I should explain that hypermiling isn't what you might think – it's not about driving greater distances or speeds and thereby using more fuel, but precisely the opposite: hypermiling is the practice of saving fuel so that you get more miles for your money.
the fact that fuel prices have now reached record highs might entice some of us into taking … hypermiling more seriously
The term hypermiling describes the activity of driving in a way that maximizes fuel economy. People who do this are described as hypermilers, whose primary aim is to achieve a 'miles per gallon' figure which far exceeds the official figure provided by the car manufacturer. Hypermiling may incorporate a variety of techniques, many of which are common sense: always driving within the speed limit, avoiding harsh acceleration or braking, minimizing use of air conditioning systems (which are notorious fuel guzzlers), avoiding carrying unnecessary weight, and removing roof/bike racks which may cause drag. Other more 'advanced' techniques employed by hypermilers may seem bizarre – such as driving without shoes to increase a foot's sensitivity on the pedals – and some may be on the boundaries of legality, or even safety. Such more extreme measures include the so-called practice of ridge-riding, driving with your wheels lined up with the very edge of the road so you avoid grooves worn away by other traffic; forced auto stop, which is coasting along in neutral with the engine switched off (saves fuel but is dangerous because it reduces the ability to steer or brake in an emergency) and the particularly risky drafting, which is driving very close to the rear of big vehicles in an attempt to stay in their slipstream.
Though the average driver may not be tempted to resort to such extreme techniques, the fact that fuel prices have now reached record highs might entice some of us into taking the concept of hypermiling more seriously. Dedicated websites already exist, and in 2008, the term was crowned 'word of the year' by the New Oxford American Dictionary.
The term hypermiling was coined in 2004 by US engineer Wayne Gerdes, who runs a website giving tips on fuel economy and lowering emissions. Gerdes notoriously refers to SUVs and other large domestic vehicles as FSPs, an abbreviation for 'fuel sucking pigs'.
The term hypermiling seems counterintuitive, since at first glance we might be tempted to interpret it in relation to words like hyperspeed, hyperdrive, etc. and associate it with the idea of excessive speed or distance. On closer inspection though it makes perfect sense: the prefix hyper- means 'more than usual or normal', so the idea of course is of 'more than the usual number of miles' (per gallon of fuel). An intransitive verb hypermile is also sometimes used and represents one of the first examples of conversion (verbing) of the noun mile.
Read last week's BuzzWord. Copyright and copyleft.
This article was first published on 14th March 2011.
A must for anyone with an interest in the changing face of language. The Macmillan Dictionary blog explores English as it is spoken around the world today.global English and language change from our blog