And Up Yours

I was recently reminded that in 2007 the British newspaper the ‘Daily Telegraph’ invited its readers to say which words and phrases they found the most irritating. Predictably, there was an enthusiastic response, including a large number of verbs formed with the humble up.  They were:

big up, bring up (find on computer), bubble up (of clouds), busy up, catch up (with), free up, give (it) up (applaud), hole up, large (it) up, listen up, meet up, park up, ratchet up, ring up, upchuck, up the ante, up sum, wait up, wrap up (warm), train up, slow up, ramp up, phone up

I can understand why some of these might bring on the huffing and puffing. Big up, listen up, large (it) up, to mention just three, are, I would guess, found in the speech of a younger generation and not in the speech of the average ‘Daily Telegraph’ reader. I can no longer claim to be a member a younger generation myself, and would not use such verbs. They are nonetheless a useful indicator of language change. One generation’s innovations become the normal usage of subsequent generations . However, even those who accept language change in principle aren’t too keen on it happening under their noses. We might call them NIMLIFs (Not In My Lifetime), the linguistic equivalent of NIMBies (Not In My Back Yard).

One of the objections to verbs that incorporate up was that it was unnecessary. ‘Up where?’ some commentators tiresomely asked. Well, lots words unnecessary, doesn’t prevent using. See? The same might be said of the ‘up’ in:

buy up, fill up, hang up, hurry up, sell up, show up, sign up, start up, use up, wake up

Do ‘Daily Telegraph’ readers never use these? I wonder why they didn’t feature. The OED gives many definitions of up in figurative contexts, including ‘From a lower to a higher status in respect of position, rank, or affluence’, ‘Into (greater) repute, credit, or estimation’, ‘To a higher spiritual or moral level or object’, ‘To a state of greater cheerfulness, confidence, resolution, etc.’, ‘Into a state of activity, commotion, excitement, or ferment.’ It’s only the harrumphers who fail to see that such usage is woven into the language which they would no doubt claim to champion.


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