Sunday, November 18, 2007

Having a hang-up with the word 'up'

We all use words in ways that are familiar to us, even if those uses are not smiled upon by the rules of formal English. Have you ever noticed the many uses of “up”? I’ll bet you’ve said “Wait up” or “Hurry up” when you meant for someone simply to wait or hurry. Or “Listen up” when you really just meant “Listen.” Why add the “up”?

In recent years, the most famous use of “up” undoubtedly came from the Budweiser commercials chanting “Whassup,” with the phrase spreading around the world. But I have to tell you, I have rewritten this column many times, and it has nothing to do with beer (this is not Bud Write). The truth is, the column was going to look at some interesting uses of “up,” but examine other fascinating (I hoped) things as well. However, every time I’d walk away from writing, more colloquial uses of “up” came up (see there?). I’d either say it or hear it, and I’d have another example I just had to include here. There are so many ways we all use “up” that it could fill several columns (but cheer up, I’ll soon finish up).

All right, now that we’ve set up the topic and geared up for examples, I’ll try to clear up any confusion by listing things you might say or hear often. If it’s time to leave, you might say, “Let’s pack up now.” Of course, saying it’s time to pack would work just as well. Ever heard this with leftovers in a restaurant — “Want me to box that up for you?” Sure. Don’t just put it in a box; box it UP for me. Tastes better, probably.

“We got caught up” means you had a chance to talk and fill each other in on the latest happenings, whereas “We got caught” is entirely different. “Up” matters. Sometimes those two innocent little letters, “u” and “p,” mean bad news. You know you do not want to get stood up. Never a good thing. And we all know that if we ever mess up, we’re likely to get written up. Robberies, of course, are holdups (or stickups), and if we’re late, it’s likely that we got held up (but probably not in a holdup). If you have hang-ups, that’s not good, and of course breaking up is hard to do, even for a stand up guy with a leg up on the competition.

Moving up in the world (maybe movin’ on up, to the East Side), running up a large bill, holding up a line, cheering up, finishing up a task, creeping up on someone and, of course, throwing up. What’s up with that? It goes on — we sign up to volunteer, we cough it up if forced to pay, we talk it up to promote it, we even cook up some grub (you’ve done that, ‘fess up).

If we want to get next to someone, we chat ‘em up. If the outcome is uncertain, we say it’s a toss up. As we prep for a challenge, we ramp up, and a smart-aleck is just a cut up. Think about make up. Those two words can be cosmetics, of course, but also a lie (you make up a story), a special task if you missed class (your make up assignment is …) or what you do after you break up (you can even kiss and make up).

Sorry. I’ll let up … but I won’t give up. Feel free to email me your language thoughts — hit me up sometime, but don’t call me up. I guess it’s time to wrap this up. Things are looking up, but time’s up.


No comments: