afterburner engaged!

I found this sentence in modern family S1. I was thinking the meaning of 'engage' was like 'involve with' or 'busy with' but in this case, it seems that 'engage' means 'to activate'. so I looked up English dictionary, I've not found this sort of meaning.

what does 'engage' mean in this sentence?

  • In machinery "4: to come together and interlock - the gears engaged" (Merriam -Webster) "4(with reference to a part of a machine or engine) move into position so as to come into operation. no object ‘the clutch will not engage’" (Oxford) Jan 19, 2021 at 7:54
  • youtube.com/watch?v=0yBoY1SQA5A Jan 19, 2021 at 12:56

2 Answers 2


It means "switched on"... the afterburner is a part of a military jet engine used for power boosts, to go faster or get off the ground. It is used figuratively to mean that a person has increased the level of effort they are putting forth.


In manual gearshift cars, when you select a particular gear, you "engage" a gear. Moving the gearshift moves the gear wheels so that the teeth interlock. This is the appropriate meaning from the Cambridge Dictionary:

to make one part of a machine fit into and move together with another part of a machine

The term is also used for performance boosters like turbos and superchargers, which use a pump to increase the pressure of the air supplied to a piston engine. These were used extensively in piston engines for aircraft. Turbos normally use a magnetic clutch to connect the boost pump to the engine drive: you engage the clutch to make the turbo run.

From here, it's a small step to using the term to apply to the afterburner on a military jet. The afterburner basically turns the rear part of a jet engine into a big blowtorch, which provides a significant boost to the output power of the engine.

As with turbos and superchargers, the mechanical engaging of components does not occur within the afterburner itself, but within the components that supply the afterburner will fuel and air, ie the turbo fuel pump and the inner lining of the entry to the turbine (the other end of the engine).

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