English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I have heard someone say "As a consultant, Dave can charge orbital fees, so we would rather have you do it."

I tried to look up "orbital" but did not find what I was expecting.

share|improve this question
I suspect you heard someone say "exorbitant fees", which would indeed mean unreasonably high fees. – Bjorn Dec 16 '11 at 23:50
If OP himself didn't mishear, it's a racing cert the person he heard did. I'm voting to close. – FumbleFingers Dec 17 '11 at 0:35
"The OP must have heard it wrong" is the only explanation? – Gnawme Dec 17 '11 at 3:53
Ding ding ding! Ring the eggcorn bell! Here's another example from SO: stackoverflow.com/questions/3056752/… – Hugo Dec 17 '11 at 9:35
@Hugo Nice insight. Surprising, I didn't think of it. That way, 'orbital fees' could perhaps mean exorbitant. – Kris Dec 19 '11 at 6:11

As Bjorn points out, "orbital" is phonetically similar to "exorbitant". Indeed, they share the same etymological root.

In addition to the similarity of sound, I suspect that someone might think of the fact that objects in orbit are very high up, or that getting an object into orbit requires accelerating it to a very high speed ("orbital speeds"). So if someone thought they heard "orbital fees" they could reasonably infer a metaphorical use that could fit in the context.

share|improve this answer
Substituting a plausible, but wrong word in this way is called an eggcorn. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 17 '11 at 3:16
This must be it. While it is fun to invent new words, I would stick to the ones that already exist. – Job Dec 17 '11 at 15:38
It's also conceptually (kind of) similar to astronomical, which would fit in context. – onomatomaniak Dec 18 '11 at 14:36
@Job They weren't inventing a new word; they were exaggerating for effect. – Gnawme Dec 19 '11 at 5:23

It's obviously a bit of hyperbole.

A satellite requires a certain combination of altitude and velocity to orbit around the earth.

As Wikipedia notes:

The minimum altitude for a stable orbit around Earth (that is, one without significant atmospheric drag) is around 350 kilometres (220 mi) above sea level.

This is very high indeed; by contrast, Mt Everest is a mere 8840 meters (5.5 mi) high.

So orbital fees are more than sky-high; after all, NASA considers anyone who travels above 80 km (50 mi) an astronaut.

share|improve this answer
+1 for "more than sky high" – phoog Dec 17 '11 at 0:27
@FumbleFingers Oh, that's harsh; I'd certainly recognize and understand hyperbole like "orbital fees" if I heard it. – Gnawme Dec 17 '11 at 1:10
I regard it as a plausible attempt at hyperbole. The tech world is full of wits and wordplayers. I work with some of them. But I do think, following on from James McLeod's answer, that stratospheric, thermospheric, or exospheric would be more correct hyperbolic escalations (in increasing levels of hyperbole). – Jonathan Van Matre Dec 17 '11 at 1:52
@FumbleFingers: whether it is an eggcorn on anybodies part or not, it still works. After 'orbital' comes 'astronomical', then 'galactic', then ... 'limits of the visible universe' just doesn't have the right punch. – Mitch Dec 17 '11 at 2:33
Now I want to go watch "Powers of Ten" – Jonathan Van Matre Dec 17 '11 at 5:09

The more common altitude-related idiom for "sky high" is stratospheric. I've never heard "orbital" used in this way, and it seems wrong - the primary characteristic of something which is orbital is that it orbits something, not that it is high above the surface.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.