Where "down" is in New England.

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Mon Aug 9 15:01:23 UTC 2010

On Mon, Aug 9, 2010 at 10:19 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:
> In his as usual entertaining "On Language" column in the NYTimes last
> Sunday ("Beach Blanket Lingo"), Ben Zimmer wrote:
> "The down of "down the shore" and "down the ocean" doesn't
> necessarily imply a southward journey. As in many dialects along the
> Eastern Seaboard, down can be used as a preposition indicating
> movement from the inland toward the shoreline."
> I am disappointed that Ben did not distinguish and elaborate for the
> New England seaboard, where "down east" means "*up* (north[east]ward)
> towards Maine."

Ah, if only there was room to pick apart all of these niceties! I
would direct interested readers to the DARE entry for "down," which is
"used variously to indicate direction toward or away from a center, to
a lower elevation, downstream, etc." Two relevant New England cites:

1943 LANE Map 720 (Up in Boston). On the eastern seaboard, from
Narragansett Bay to New Brunswick... down means 'away from Boston' or
'down toward the sea' ... On Narragansett Bay .. down means 'toward
the sea.'
1983 Beyle How Talk Cape Cod 34, You can often tell just who is native
to the place and who's not by their sense of direction. For instance,
you go "down" to Provincetown here, not "up"--even though you'll be
traveling north for the most part.


Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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