Tuesday, July 30, 2013


The linguist in me has bubbled to the surface again, courtesy of this discourse on a simple two-letter word that I got from my friend Bob the other day ...

Consider the many meanings of the humble word "up" …

It’s easy to understand up, as it refers to direction, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake up?

At a meeting, why do we speak up when our issue comes up? If we care enough about a topic, we can get spun up. At the meeting, officers may be up for election, and it’s the secretary’s job to write up a report, often typing it up on a computer. A good, well-run meeting never leaves an issue up in the air.

We call up our friends, clean up a room*, and polish up the silver; we also warm up the leftovers and clean up the kitchen. We get dressed up to go out, and make sure to lock up the house when we leave.

Some people like to fix up old cars, revving up the engine to make sure it works properly. Other people like to stir up trouble.

People line up for tickets, work up an appetite, think up excuses, and bring up children. Sometimes, those children act up and must be told to straighten up and fly right.

Sometimes we have to open up a drain that is stopped up, and by the same token, we open up a store in the morning, and close it up at night.

To be knowledgeable about the many meanings of the word, we can look up "up" in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, "up" takes up almost a quarter of the page and can add up to thirty definitions or more.

If you're up to it, you might build up a list of the many ways "up" is used. It will take up a lot of your time, but if you don’t give up, you may wind up with a hundred or more.

When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding up, but when the sun comes out, we say it is clearing up. When it doesn’t rain for a while, things dry up.

In old westerns, the villain and his henchmen would often shoot up a frontier town, which might stock up on guns and ammunition to defend itself.

Congressional committees used to mark up proposed budgets back when Congress could actually pass budgets**.

I could go on, but it's time to shut up, because my time is up, so I’ll just wrap it up for now.

It's up to me to help you appreciate language, after all.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


* If you're from Pittsburgh, of course, you don't clean up the room, you red it up.

** Many of you may not be old enough to remember this.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

Funny thing -- in some of your examples the sense is unchanged with the omission of up, but in others it is lost. I fear that I am muddying up the waters, but hopefully Imnot f***ing things up.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

sadly the first thing that went through my mind was what evil pop tart said, F up. Hmmm.....

I am not from Pit but my hubby is from central PA where they say things like red up and they use the word cupboard for cabinet and they pronounce radiator all wrong.
Being from NW PA I speak like a Midwesterner.

Clarissa said...

"Down" is less often used; like in "party down."

John A Hill said...

If you're going too fast, do you slow up or slow down?

Mike said...

Following John's lead, why do we tell someone to shut up when we really mean shut down?

Big Sky Heidi said...

Where did expressions like "man up" or "cowboy up" come from?

Bilbo said...

Angel - don't worry about it.

Peggy - those all sound okay to me.

Clarissa - I'll have to see whether there are enough "down" expressions to do a similar post.

John - I've heard both used, but more often one slows down.

Mike - because "shut sideways" makes no sense.

Heidi - good question ... I don't know how I missed "man up," which is a very popular expression. We don't say "woman up," though. Hmmm...