Geographic "up" and "down"

Kenneth Wolcott kenwolcott at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jan 12 05:08:58 UTC 2013

My (often too) significant other and I spent dinner debating the meaning of
"up", "down", and "over" in terms of relational geography (up/down the
street, up on Woodward, down to the market, etc).

One of us believes their use is a matter of distance - "up the street" may
mean a few blocks in either direction, whereas "down the street" implies
within a block or two of the reference point. Similarly, "up in the market
( referring to Eastern Market, a neighborhood of Detroit a few miles from
us)"  just means a bit of a long walk away, and is perfectly acceptable -
even if the market is mostly east and slightly south from our house.

The other (incorrectly) believes that "up", "down", and "over" have to be
used as they would on a traditional map, where you keep northern things on
the top (up the street means north of the reference point), and anything
mostly east or west must be relatively "over", never "up" or "down". When
you say "over to tim's" you're not making a geographic statement, you're
doing some other thing. Thus, "over to the riverfront" means some
uninterpretable thing, but never means walking south to the riverfront, etc.

We were going to start asking people we knew what they think, but I'm
worried that posing the  question would be priming the subject. Since
dialectologists seem like a group that's less vulnerable to that sort of
thing, we agreed to ask you guys what you think about up and down, and
whether you knew of any Science that's been done touching on the topic.

The American Dialect Society -

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