I came across an odd fact the other day. There is a two-letter word in English that has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that word is ‘UP.’ It is listed in the dictionary as an adverb, preposition, adjective, noun, or verb! (click here for the Oxford English dictionary link and keep scrolling down the page) There are over 30 definitions of the word!
I cannot claim total originality for what follows (I think variations of this have circulated before) but it sure is fun to explore for us word lovers!
At first it is easy to understand the word UP, meaning toward the sky or a higher position, but think about all the other ways we use this word.
You wake UP
At a meeting, topics come UP
Political candidates are UP for election
Your smile can brighten UP a room
A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP
You line UP for tickets
People speak UP or take UP a cause
And if a person is speaking too softly we ask them to “speak UP!”
To be dressed is one thing but to be dressed UP is special.
With the right skill you can fix UP the old car
It is UP to someone at work to write UP a report
You call UP your friends
Please look UP your friends in your address book
Unfortunately, you can take UP with the wrong crowd
You work UP an appetite
At dinner time you warm UP leftovers and then clean UP the kitchen
Don’t forget to lock UP the house
A disaster strikes and you must pick UP the pieces
By clicking a thumbs-UP you can say you “like” something online
After the rain we say the sky is clearing UP
But if has not rained for a while we say it is drying UP
The bad kid in class always stirs UP trouble
You think UP excuses
Someone must open UP a store in the morning but remember to close it UP at night
A Pixar movie is called “Up”
Time to wrap this UP.
So, if you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don’t give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more.
Daniel j. Parker
Good job . You wrote up a good many.
Wow. So true. You’ve really up’d your game with this latest post.
And half the time we use it only ups our word count, not our meaning.
Pamela S Meyers
I was a sign language interpreter for my church for many years. When I was in interpreter training at the local community college we focused a lot on multiple meaning words. In ASL you have a different sign for each meaning, but you have to know the meanings as well as the signs.
The word “up” never came up. LOL. There’s one right there. One example is the word “run.” You can run a race, run a machine, run a company. Ladies can have a run in their stocking, or someone can run on at the mouth. There are others I’m sure.
I love all the idiosyncrasies of the English language, but it sure must be a difficult language to learn.
Janet Ann Collins
Pamela, I was an ASL interpreter in churches for many years, too. and you’re right, up doesn’t come up because, in most cases, it doesn’t make any difference to the meanings.
Love this post!
The first additions that came to my mind were….
‘Why don’t you grow up’
‘I threw up’ or ‘he up chucked’
‘I can’t stand his attitude of one-upmanship’
Love is another word to offer up for consideration. I don’t have near thirty definitions, but here are a few.
The Greeks have different definitions of love.
Eros, or sexual passion. Agape is love for everyone. Philia is deep friendship. Storge is love of family and friends, but this seems a lot like Philia to me. Ludus is playful love. Pragma is longstanding love. Philautia is love of self.
There’s also the word love as in the score of zero in tennis.
Thanks for the stimulating post today, Steve!
Some of these are regional colloquialisms. If we figure all the regional changes from “standard” English, I’m sure we could come up with many uses for other common words. If you look at many of the sentences you could remove “up” and make no change to the meaning of the sentence. In others, the word does carry meaning but, could be substituted for a more precise word. Let’s be careful with the words we choose to use!
I noticed that too, Diana. We can have fun with words when writing, but we also can eliminate some of the uses of those small words, or find more precise words to express our thoughts. 🙂
Thank you for this. I was up to my eyeballs making up a to-do list. You cheered me up!
Oh, forget it. My crit partners will slash every UP I put in my manuscript anyway. Seriously. They hate that word! (Which doesn’t, apparently, dissuade me from trying.)
I woke up to your post. Made me smile. And,have great compassion for ESL students.
I know I’ve heard this before about the word up. I’m not sure if it was a question on Jeopardy, but the question was “What is the most commonly used two letter word?” My mind ran to the words to and at and of, and never once considered the word up.
Fun post, Steve. I thought of one of my weasel words: Back. It got me thinking about the many ways that this word is used. And my mind ran up against your word and mine: Back-UP. We need to back up our information. Sometimes I back up to get a running start. Other times I go back up the stairs to take more things to my room. . .
You made me smile with all your examples.
Sheri Dean Parmelee
What’s up? With your posting today, it looks like quite a bit is up…….Thanks for the smile!
Best, (I’m looking up!)
“Up” comes up in Scripture, too.
1 Thessalonians 5:11
“. . . encourage one another and build up each other . . .”
New English Translation
“You have gone up to Jerusalem” – 1 Kings 12:28 (etc.)
“…pick up scraps under my table” Judges 1:7
“the people of the province who came up out of the captivity” Ezra 2:1
“The frogs shall come up on you…” Exodus 8:4
Only over 2,000 uses of the word “up” in the Bible…
Janet Ann Collins
This post was a wake-UP call. 😉