Where "down" is in Old England

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Aug 18 15:41:24 UTC 2010

At 11:53 AM +0100 8/10/10, Damien Hall wrote:
>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.
Just attested this from an audiobook of _Gaudy Night_, set in Oxford
(Dorothy Sayers, 1935).

Lord St. George (Peter Wimsey's nephew, an undergraduate at Oxford)
is conversing with Harriet Vane, a mystery writer and Oxford graduate
who has come from London supposedly to do some research on an obscure
writer but really to solve a series of serious vandalisms.  She has
just helped him sort out his unpaid bills.

Harriet Vane:       "That's the lot."
Lord St. George:  "Thank God. Now talk prettily to me."
Harriet:               "No, I must get back now. I'll post these on the way."
LSG::                 "You're not really going right away?"
Harriet:               "Yes, right away. To London."
LSG:                  "Wish I was you.  Shall you be up next term?"

It's clear from earlier uses of "up" and "down" that these are not
simply geographical (various students go, or are sent down from,
Oxford to various parts of the country, and in other novels
characters go up to London from various non-Oxbridgian sites), so
here it is indeed a case of up to (and down from) Oxford trumping up
to (and down from) London, as Damien predicts.


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