Geographic "up" and "down"

James A. Landau <> JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM
Sun Jan 13 19:19:10 UTC 2013

Usually, but not always, if I say "down the street" I mean towards the nearest major intersection, and "up the street" away from that intersection.  What I say if I'm midway between two major intersections I cannot predict.

However, if I'm driving a car, or giving directions to someone in a car, I can't say if I would say "up the street" or "down the street" to mean the direction in which the car was heading.

Assorted thoughts:

Most towns have a "downtown".  Exceptions seem to be towns where what would be called "downtown" has a idiosyncratic name, such as "the Loop" for Chicago and "Center City" for Philadelphia.  Atlantic City occupies the northern half of Absecon Island, with most of the casinos and businesses located in the center of the city, but that center doesn't seem to have a name.  The southern end of Atlantic City is "Downbeach" and the northern end is "the Inlet", "the Marina", or "Gardner's Basin".

There is a reason New York (specifically Manhattan) has a "Midtown".  The reason is geological.  There are only two areas where the geology is suitable for supporting skyscrapers, one being near the Battery and the other being in the area centered on 30th to 40th Street.  Hence there are two downtown areas, with the northern one being "Midtown".

In 1990, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company attempted to introduce a new brand of menthol cigarette targeted specifically at African-Americans. The brand was called "Uptown." The introduction of Uptown was met with a large, forceful and well-coordinated protest by African-Americans in the areas where it was introduced. The slogan used by the protesters was "Shut Down Uptown."
<end quote>

It is possible that the brand name "Uptown" was the off-hand invention of some white copywriter, but it is also possible that R. J. Reynolds did some market research and discovered that the name "Uptown" had some positive resonance with blacks.  If so, does anyone have any idea what such positive resonances might be?  Do blacks consider their homes to be "uptown"?

Reverend Spooner is supposed to have told a student "You have hissed my mystery lectures.  You have tasted an entire worm.  You will leave on the next town drain" implying the existence of a "down train".

"Getting down to brass tacks" or "to the meat of the matter", but "getting up to mischief."

   - James A. Landau

Netscape.  Just the Net You Need.

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list