I think George Carlin might’ve gotten to this whole notion first in his classic skit about baseball vs. football, but I’m too busy to look it up and he did it better anyway.
And now that is out of the way, have you ever pondered the wonderful flexibility of the word “up?” Maybe my recent fascination has its roots in my family history. I’m an nth generation South Carolinian from The Upstate, which is not to be confused with the Midlands or the Lowcountry or down here in Georgia.
Get it. Up? Upstate? Yep. Now, as far as I know, the word up by itself is basically the opposite of down. It’s when you tack it on to other words that up lights up like a Christmas tree.
We start our day “waking up” and can measure time until a big moment by, say, “five days and a wakeup.” We use it as a direction: “You go up yonder, then take a right up that dirt road half a mile and bear to the left and it’s right up there on the right by that pecan tree. You can’t miss it.”
Up is a measure of height: “Up in the stratosphere.” Up is used in a polite reference to that place where millions of transplants keep coming from:, i.e., “They’re from up north, you know,” which is often followed by a “bless their hearts.” Or cussing.
Up can be a sign of someone committing an error of some sort: “He messed up,” which itself is the G-rated version of a phrase that sadly tends to be more R-rated these days: “He (bleeped) up.” Of course worse than being R-rated is not being rated at all, as in: “He woke up dead.” To admit messing up is fessing up.
There’s more. Up can help describe ambivalence, or confusion, or any of a number of emotions. Mixed up. Shook up. Torn up. Fired up. Beat up. Grown up. Used up. If you hit a home run and stare at it for 20 minutes before you go around the bases, you’ve “shown up,” the pitcher. Sometimes you can get “set up,” which is not a good thing.
The use of up can mean you need to go faster, i.e., “giddy-up,” or you might need to “whoa up” and slow up, which is actually slowing down. Up is about energy, as in “get up and go,” or lack thereof.
If you have a hernia you might be “laid up” a while. And if you have a membership in something it’s a good idea to be “paid up.” On the other side of that coin, if someone owes you money, you want him to “pay up,” or “pony up,” or “give it up,” which is also advice to losing political candidates.
Up is also an academic term: “I boned up on my American history.” Or one to describe criminal acts: “He held up the vape store and tied up the hairy clerk with bungee cords.”
n the junior enlisted Army of my day decades ago, we swore an oath to “uphold” the Constitution, and I think we did, though things that were bad were said to be “ate up,” sometimes with profanity added in the middle to emphasize just how ate up whatever was ate up was. “Sarge, that lima beans and egg MRE smells ate the (3#@*#) up.”
There was also a widely used acronym, FUBAR, which to paraphrase means “messed up beyond all recognition/repair,” only the first word is something you shouldn’t repeat in polite company.
Onward. Up is in Beach Music – The Drifter’s classic “Up on the Roof,” and “Mixed up Shook Up Girl” by Patty and the Emblems. It’s in dance music like “Word Up,” the Stylistic’s classic “Break Up To Make up,” The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek,” and Bob Dylan’s “Tangled up in Blue.” It’s even in real outlaw country – anybody remember “Up against the Wall?” by David Allen Coe? I do.
It’s in gospel music too, such as the fine “When the Roll is called Up Yonder.”
It can be used to signify one’s willingness to do something, as in, “Hey, I’m up for that if you are,” or disdain: “She turned her nose up at it and wouldn’t eat it.”
It can be used to get organized, “Line yourselves up over there,” or “I’ll just straighten up a bit,” and a bed is made up and sometimes women use too much makeup. Up can explain the effect of eating much or taking illegal performance enhancing drugs: “He got all swole up from eating too many biscuits and sausage gravy with them illegal steroids.”
The word up helps explain certain anatomical facts about the pompous and pretentious among us – “boy his head is all swelled up,” and in the next breath describe someone who’s landed in difficulty: “Yep, he’s up (bleep) creek without a paddle.”
It’s a coke, “7-Up,” and a movie “The 7-Ups” and adds some context to the titles of a host of novels and autobiographies, including “Up from Slavery” by Booker T. Washington and “I am Malala: The Girl Who stood up For Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.”
Up is a rallying cry, “surf’s up!” and an insult from a ’70s TV sitcom: “Up your nose with a rubber hose.” Up can be a call to admit one’s crime, i.e., “fess up,” or describe how things went awry, as in “up the spout.” And if you’re taking “uppers,” chances are you’re wired up and could be ready for just about anything, to include “upping the ante.”
Finally, this nugget, an old cheer from somewhere: “When you’re up, your’e up, when you’re down you’re down, and when your up against the (South Carolina) Gamecocks you’re upside down.”
And that’s on the up and up.