What’s up with the word up?

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What two letter word in the English language has more definitions than “up”? I dare you to find one that tops this little word.

In the bottom left-hand column of page 1327 in my American Heritage Dictionary, the word, up, begins its long list of definitions, one so long that it consumes 41 lines of print. It can be used an adjective, adverb, noun, preposition or verb.

While it’s extremely easy to define the post popular use of the word, up, as in looking from a lower to a higher position (“looking up in the sky”) or moving higher on a list (“my grades are up), why is it when we first get up in the morning we “wake up?” Why don’t we just wake or awaken?

At a meeting, why does a topic come up?  Why do we speak up? Why are political seats up for election? Why is it up to the secretary to write up a report?

We call up our friends; brighten up a room; polish up the silver; warm up the leftovers and clean up the kitchen.  We lock up the house and fix up the old car.

At other times, this little word has real special meaning.  People stir up trouble (which could later lead to a person being brought up on charges). We line up for tickets, work up an appetite, and think up excuses.

To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed up is special.

And this up is confusing:  A drain must be opened up because it is stopped up. Isn’t that opposing definitions of the word?

Here’s another head-scratcher – We open up a store in the morning, but we close it up at night.  We seem to be pretty mixed up about up!

If you are up to it, you might try building 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.  When the sun comes out, we say it is clearing up.  When it rains, it soaks up the earth. When it does not rain for awhile, things tend to dry up.

Have you been selected to pass along information? If so, it’s up to you to do so.

If you have a little devilish spirit, you may be judged as up to no good. If that lifestyle leads to death, people will say, “his time was up.”

If you opt to tell of your past transgressions or are always truthful, you’re on the “up and up.”

In baseball, a team can be up by a run. The umpire will shout, “batter up.”

One could go on and on, but I’ll wrap it up for now, leaving you with one more thing. What’s the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night?

U P.

Did you get that?

Okay, I shut up for now.

Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be reached at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or at 252-332-7207. He’s normally up early in the morning and stays up until late at night.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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