George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Fri May 20 03:53:59 UTC 2011

>To me, the word "uptown" sometimes has a connotation of
>upscale-ness, as opposed to the grittier "downtown".  Think of the
>Billy Joel song "Uptown Girl."
>Fred Shapiro

1)  When I was a boy, my family's house was on the side of a fairly deep valley, and the center of town was at the bottom: hence, we thought of going to the center as "going downtown".  I dare say no one thought of going to the outskirts on the sides of the valley as "going uptown".

2) One of the many things my defunct mother-in-law couldn't tolerate in me was my penchant for referring to the center of her town as "downtown": her town was on a river, and her house was downstream from the center: hence, the center was "uptown".

3)  It seems that among jazz hounds in the 1930s & 40s, in NYC, "uptown" meant Harlem.  I was just listening to a record from 1931 by Don Redman, singing (after a fashion) a song he wrote, with his orchestra: Shaking the African.  This doesn't directly make this connection, but it uses the words "uptown" and "downtown" and says that the dance he's singing about "started up here".
I recall also hearing an old jazz hound on the radio saying of a record he had just played: "That's real uptown music!" -- the sort of rough, noisy music being played in the after-hours joints in Harlem, rather than the smoother jazz the record companies generally preferred.  If I recall, the jazz hound was Dan Morgenstern, who has been on the scene since the late 40s, and the record was by Frankie Newton, a trumpeter, recorded probably in the late 30s or early 40s.  (But I won't insist that I'm right.)


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.

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

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