Origin of the term "Upstate"

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Wed May 18 00:44:26 UTC 2011

I have family members who speak of "going down to Boston," which is north for them.  This is jarring to me, as I have always thought that "up" denotes north and "down" denotes south.  Yet "downtown" does not necessarily signify southernness, but rather the heart of the city.

Fred Shapiro

From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Jonathan Lighter [wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM]
Sent: Tuesday, May 17, 2011 4:18 PM
Subject: Re: Origin of the term "Upstate"

OED doen't realize that "upstate" New York is "up" because it is north of
NYC - or north of whatever part of the state the speaker is in.

"Downstate" is comparably south,  though without beingoriented to any
specific location. "Downstate New York" is a rather odd-sounding phrase to
me, but "upstate New York" could refer in theory to any place north of New
York City, though I'd say it's usually restricted to the Hudson Valley and
immediate environs, western New York being referred unimaginatively to as
"Western New York State."


On Tue, May 17, 2011 at 3:15 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Re: Origin of the term "Upstate"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Do you mean apart from or beyond the OED?  (Whose entries are from
> the 1989 edition.)
> upstate, adv., adj. n.
> orig. and chiefly U.S.
>  A. adv.
>  1. In that part of a state which is (regarded as) higher than
> another, or is more remote from the chief centre. Freq. with
> reference to the State of New York.
> 1901    in N. Amer. Rev. Feb. 162   American girls..imported from
> small towns up-State.
> 1938    J. W. Daniels Southerner discovers South 247,   I heard about
> it upstate.
> 2. U.S. slang. In prison.
> 1934    T. Wilder Heaven's my Destination 23   You get the
> strait-jacket..upstate.
> B. adj.
>   Of, pertaining to, or characteristic of, an area upstate; situated
> upstate, rural; also, designating part of a State remote (esp. north)
> from a large city, as upstate New York.
> 1901    Daily Chron. 16 Sept. 3/7   All the up-State constituencies.
> 1904    Collier's 16 July 16/1   The crews of the up-State college
> [Cornell].
> 1935    Amer. Speech 10 107   Pronunciation in upstate New York...
> Upstate speech has been studied..by three previous investigators.
>  C. n. or ellipt.
>   An upstate region; a rural area.
> 1965 ...
> ----------
> downstate
> U.S.
>   The part of a State outside a large city, esp. the southern part.
> Also as adv.adj. Cf. upstate adv.Used in various parts of the U.S.
> with varying local significance.
> 1909    Daily Maroon (Chicago) 2 Oct. 1/4   Springer, a husky
> full-back from down-state.
> 1932    W. Faulkner Light in August iii. 58   She had gone to visit
> her people downstate.
> ----------
> There are a number of Google Books hits for "upstate" from 1900 to
> 1909 that look genuine, all seemingly for New York State.  Some
> possibly from 1841, 1850 (by Jacob Abbot, copyright page seen, author
> is right period), and 1857, also New York.  Unfortunately, many false
> positives, but the number of 1900s instances provide varying context.
> ----------
> "Down-state" shows in the 1900s decade also, from New York.  And not
> surprisingly from Illinois, as early as 1901 (Public policy: A
> journal for the correct understanding of public ..., Volume 5).  Too
> many "go down State Street" and "broken down state".
> Joel
> At 5/17/2011 01:49 PM, Chris Wholers wrote:
> >This may be one of those questions that doesn't have an answer, but I'm
> >trying to figure out if there's any documented origin for the term
> "upstate"
> >(and "downstate" as well).  Does anyone have any idea where these terms
> were
> >first used?  Or any hints as to where to look?
> >
> >
> >Thanks,
> >
> >Chris
> >
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