Where "down" is in Old England

Damien Hall djh514 at YORK.AC.UK
Tue Aug 10 10:53:58 UTC 2010

Larry & Joel:

>> I forget whether one goes down from one's university to London or up
>> to London; could it be either, depending on the context and worldview?
> I think one can be "sent down" from one's college (and also prep [do
> the British use that term] school to home, for misbehavior.

Speaking as an Oxford graduate who is from London: when you're in Oxford
(or Cambridge), the University takes precedence, so I went down when I went
home. This is how it is in the University regulations dealing with being
sent or going down: the usages are absolute: no other places are mentioned,
the implication (and the economical analysis and usage) being that you go
down from Oxford and Cambridge to anywhere. Not many of my contemporaries
(1992-6) used the terms, though (I'm pretentious like that), so it may be
that the terms will be reinterpreted with reference to other standards of
up-ness in future. A complicating factor in the analysis could be that both
Oxford and Cambridge are North of London, so you would go 'down' to London
either in the prestige sense or in the common geographical sense; still, as
I say, my feeling is that in the Universities' usage, the prestige sense
takes precedence.

Outside the Oxford and Cambridge context, as has been remarked, one can go
'up' to London from anywhere in the country, but it's my impression
(confirmed by a straw poll here in the office) that only high-society
people do that. So a high-society person might go up to London from his
family seat in the North of the country; for everyone else, the
geographical 'up = North' sense trumps everything.

You'll notice I'm talking about Oxford and Cambridge here. I'm not sure how
many other Universities' official usages include 'coming up' and 'going
down'; maybe none. Certainly, the University of York simply refers to
students arriving and leaving, and being suspended or, I think, expelled in
case of necessity.

On railways with one terminus in London, it is still the case that 'up
trains' go to London and 'down trains' away from it. Presumably this is a
specific example of the more general case that 'up = towards a larger /
more important place'. Certainly, this Wikipedia page agrees with that
analysis (see the entries for 'up train' and 'down train'):


Yes, the British (those who went to private/public schools, anyway) do
still use the term 'prep school'.


Damien Hall

University of York
Department of Language and Linguistic Science
YO10 5DD

Tel. (office) +44 (0)1904 432665
     (mobile) +44 (0)771 853 5634
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