Point of no return

Point of no return

The point of no return is the point beyond which one must continue on his or her current course of action because turning back is physically impossible, prohibitively expensive or dangerous. It is also used when the distance or effort required to get back would be greater than the remainder of the journey or task as yet undertaken. A particular irreversible action (e.g., setting off an explosion or signing a contract) can be a point of no return, but the point of no return can also be a calculated point during a continuous action (such as in aviation).


Origins and spread of the expression

The term PNR—"point of no return," more often referred to by pilots as the "Radius of Action formula"—originated, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, as a technical term in air navigation to refer to the point on a flight at which, due to fuel consumption, a plane is no longer capable of returning to its airfield of original takeoff.[1]

The first major metaphorical use of the term in popular culture was John P. Marquand's novel Point of No Return (partially serialized in 1947, published in book form in 1949). It inspired a 1951 Broadway play of the same name by Paul Osborn. The novel and play concerned a pivotal moment in the life of an American banker, but they also explicitly referenced how the original expression was used in World War II aviation.

Since then, "point of no return" has become an everyday expression, with its aviation origins probably unknown to most speakers. It has served as a title for numerous literary and entertainment works.

Related expressions

There are a number of phrases with similar or related meaning:

  • Beyond a certain point there is no return. This point has to be reached. is a quote from Franz Kafka's Aphorisms (Betrachtungen über Sünde, Leid, Hoffnung und den wahren Weg - 1918)
  • Crossing the Rubicon is a metaphor for deliberately proceeding past a point of no return. The phrase originates with Julius Caesar's invasion of Ancient Rome (January 10, 49 BC), when he led his army across the Rubicon River in violation of law, thus making conflict inevitable. Therefore the term "the Rubicon" is used as a synonym to the "point of no return".
  • Alea iacta est ("The die is cast"), which is reportedly what Caesar said during the aforementioned crossing of the Rubicon.
  • The equivalent expressions
    • Burn one's bridges. The expression is derived from the idea of burning down a bridge after crossing it during a military campaign, leaving no option but to win, and motivating those who otherwise might want to retreat. This expression can also be used figuratively, as in, "On my last day at my old job, I told my boss what I really think about the company. I guess I burned my bridges."
    • Burn one's boats, a variation of burning one's bridges. The Muslim commander Tariq ibn Ziyad, upon setting foot on the Iberian Peninsula (711 AD), ordered his ships to be burnt, so that his men had no choice but to thrust forward and conquer the peninsula. A similar strategy was used by Hernan Cortes (1485-1547), who scuttled (purposefully sank) his ships, so no other option was left than to advance into Aztec territory. It happened several times in World history such as the famous Mutineers on Pitcairn Island.
    • "Break the kettles and sink the boats (破釜沉舟)", an ancient Chinese saying referring to Xiang Yu's order at the Battle of Julu (207 BC); by fording a river and destroying all means of re-crossing it, he committed his army to a struggle to the end with the Qin and eventually achieved victory.
  • Fait accompli ("accomplished deed", from the verb "faire", to do), a term of French origin denoting an irreversible deed, a done deal.

See also


  1. ^ The OED places its first printed use in this context to 1941, in an article in the Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society, which notes that: "Laymen are inevitably intrigued by this fatalistic expression. As a matter of fact it is merely a designation of that limit-point, before which any engine failure requires an immediate turn around and return to the point of departure, and beyond which such return is no longer practical." Other examples given from the 1940s explicitly reference air travel as the origin. No examples in JSTOR date earlier than the late 1930s.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Point Of Know Return — Album par Kansas Sortie septembre 1977 Enregistrement juin juillet 1977 Woodland Sound, Nashville, TN et Studio In The Country, Bogalusa, LA Durée 43:59 Genre(s) Rock progressif …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Point of Know Return — Album par Kansas Sortie septembre 1977 Enregistrement juin juillet 1977 Woodland Sound, Nashville, TN et Studio In The Country, Bogalusa, LA Durée 43:59 Genre Rock progressif …   Wikipédia en Français

  • point of no return — point′ of no′ return′ n. 1) aer. the point in a flight at which an aircraft will lack sufficient fuel to return to its starting point 2) the critical point in an undertaking where one has committed oneself irrevocably to a course of action •… …   From formal English to slang

  • point of no return — n. 1. the moment on a flight when there is no longer enough fuel to return to the starting point 2. a point in an enterprise, adventure, etc. when participants are too deeply involved or committed to withdraw …   English World dictionary

  • point of no return — UK US noun [S] ► the stage at which it is no longer possible to stop what you are doing, and when its effects cannot now be avoided or prevented: »In business you know that you may be passing the point of no return when you cannot pay your bills… …   Financial and business terms

  • point of no return — index crossroad (turning point) Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • Point of no Return — Point of no Re|turn [ pɔint əv nou ri tə:n] der; , s <aus gleichbed. engl. point of no return> Punkt, an dem es kein Zurück mehr gibt …   Das große Fremdwörterbuch

  • point of no return — noun a line that when crossed permits of no return and typically results in irrevocable commitment • Syn: ↑Rubicon • Hypernyms: ↑line, ↑dividing line, ↑demarcation, ↑contrast * * * 1. : the poi …   Useful english dictionary

  • Point of Know Return — Infobox Album | Name = Point of Know Return Type = Album Artist = Kansas Released = September 1977 Recorded = June July 1977 at Woodland Sound, Nashville, TN and Studio In The Country, Bogalusa, LA Genre = Progressive rock Length = 43:59 Label =… …   Wikipedia

  • Point of no Return — Als Point of no Return (englisch für Punkt ohne Wiederkehr) wird in unterschiedlichen Zusammenhängen der Zeitpunkt innerhalb eines Vorgangs oder Ablaufs bezeichnet, von dem an eine Rückkehr zum Ausgangspunkt nicht mehr möglich ist. In der… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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