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"Going up to London." Why on earth...?
February 17, 2006 4:04 PM   Subscribe

"Going up to London." I'm interested in the history of this phrase ...

It seems to be used particularly in the context of someone attending Oxford or Cambridge Universities, as in "I was bored and lonely at Cambridge, and went up to London as much as I could." Only, London's south of (down from) Cambridge.

So, what I'm wondering is, (1), why "up," rather than "down;" (2), is this still a current usage, or is it pretty much antiquated; and (3) is there a corollary, i.e. "going down to Oxford/Cambridge" from London and other parts south?
posted by Sonny Jim to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Well, you go 'up' to Cambridge and Oxford and 'down' to the country, if that's any help. You go 'up' to Oxford when you begin your studies there, too (like I did). I don't know the origins of this but it also depends where you come from. In my home town in North Notts we went 'down' to London, but when I lived in Aylesbury we went 'up'.

Now I live in Toronto and we go 'up' to Cottage Country (North) and back 'down' to Toronto. But we might also go 'up' to Montreal, which is due east.
posted by unSane at 4:18 PM on February 17, 2006


Addendum: I think in upper middle class English you basically go 'up' to the bigger place from the smaller. So you would go 'up' to Oxford from Lesser Wallop, but 'up' to London from Oxford, and 'down' from London to either of them. Unless you were beginning university, in which case you would go 'up' to Oxford. Is that clear?
posted by unSane at 4:20 PM on February 17, 2006


I think in upper middle class English you basically go 'up' to the bigger place from the smaller. So you would go 'up' to Oxford from Lesser Wallop, but 'up' to London from Oxford, and 'down' from London to either of them.

Thanks, unSane. That looks like a good explanation. So I guess it's a hierarchy of importance, then?
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:42 PM on February 17, 2006


I'll leave the explaining for someone who actually knows, but I just wanted to add a data point. I was re-reading Dickens' Bleak House last week, and when Esther and Mr. Bucket are pursuing Lady Dedlock they first take the stage coach away from London, but, after realizing they were misled, Bucket demands that the stage take them "Up". The stage driver questions him because they'd previously been going full speed "Down", or away from London. So there's another example of "up" being used to mean "toward London".
posted by MsMolly at 4:43 PM on February 17, 2006


Is there a watershed relationship between Oxford and London, and if so, are waterways near Oxford tributary to the Thames? Additionally, when in London, if one journeys to the mouth of the Thames, does one go 'down' to that locale?

If so, up and down might reflect watershed drainage patterns. Just speculation.
posted by mwhybark at 4:44 PM on February 17, 2006


whoop, somehow I got dyslexic on the usage. Never mind!
posted by mwhybark at 4:44 PM on February 17, 2006


Oxford is on the River Thame (and Isis) which both flow into the Thames, which goes through London. So they are both upstream from London. Logically, therefore, you go 'up' to Oxford from London, so I don't think this has anything to do with it.
posted by unSane at 5:08 PM on February 17, 2006


Here in Colorado, up and down are often used in relation to altitude. Denver is north of where I am, but is about 2700 feet lower in altitude, so people go "down to Denver." Are there significant altitude differences between London and surrounding areas?

To second unSane, when I lived in rural northeast Missouri, people would go "up to St Louis" - south about three hours.

And to build from that, it may also be an urban/rural thing, as well as just size, though that's certainly closely related.
posted by attercoppe at 5:17 PM on February 17, 2006


I maintain that I'm going "down" to Tucson, but my friends who live in Tucson will say they're going "up" to Tucson, from Phoenix. This is either because "going up" is itself a phrase meaning to get out of where you currently are, or perhaps because, since they live there, they place higher importance on it. They do say they're coming down to Phoenix, now that I think about it...

To each their own, it seems.
posted by disillusioned at 5:21 PM on February 17, 2006


I concur with unSane -- it's hierarchical. Googling "site:uk __.to.London" gives about equal results for "up" and "down" (some of them outside the scope of this discussion to be sure), but Bartleby shows numerous results in older texts for "up" and none at all for "down". It's probably historically been influenced by the nursery rhyme "Pussycat Pussycat" which includes the line I've been up to London to visit the Queen.
posted by dhartung at 5:32 PM on February 17, 2006


Another similar curiosity is when Massholes say we're "going down the Cape" even though we drove east then north (at least from where I grew up).
posted by lazywhinerkid at 6:10 PM on February 17, 2006


As to, is it still current, it is, but it sounds somewhat affected unless you speak with a fairly cut glass accent.

'Going up to London' or 'down to the country' definitely has a whiff of tweed about it.
posted by unSane at 6:11 PM on February 17, 2006


For what it's worth, to be expelled from Cambridge is titled "to be sent down," the assumption being London. This seems pretty consistent with what's been said thus far.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:56 PM on February 17, 2006


Being 'sent down' (ie expelled) from Oxford or Cambridge is also called 'being rusticated' which means literally, sent to the countryside. Until the 19th century most undergraduates would have come from rural shires.

Rustication can be temporary, ie for a term or so. Someone was rusticated for heroin usage when I was there in the 80s.
posted by unSane at 7:32 PM on February 17, 2006


I agree with the hierarchy explanation.

Here's a thing -- why are "downloading" and "uploading" arranged that way? Isn't that a hierarchy thing? A server is bigger, and as a multiple-user system, somehow more important than your computer. is that why we say "down" and "up" for "from the server" and "to the server"?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:49 PM on February 17, 2006


Interesting answers, everyone. Thanks!
posted by Sonny Jim at 7:54 PM on February 17, 2006


Ambrose: Because you are putting things on and taking things off a server. Like you take a jar down from a shelf, and put if back up. Plus, the terms for server usage would have been coined logically, rather than based on social hierarchy.
posted by djgh at 8:02 PM on February 17, 2006


I was at Oxford for a year about 5 years ago. I can confirm that the terms "came down" (as in "left university to find a job") and "sent down" are still in use there. No idea where they originated, though.

The sense that I got was that university is a special time of life, and when you come down from it you're back in a lower plane of existence.
posted by A dead Quaker at 8:14 PM on February 17, 2006


Because you are putting things on and taking things off a server. Like you take a jar down from a shelf, and put if back up.

But that's not an answer at all. Why in the world would you envision a server as a shelf, and why above you rather than below you?

Plus, the terms for server usage would have been coined logically, rather than based on social hierarchy.

Kind of like "master" and "slave" huh? *snicker*
posted by kindall at 9:44 PM on February 17, 2006


Being 'sent down' (ie expelled) from Oxford or Cambridge is also called 'being rusticated' which means literally, sent to the countryside
On a point of pedantry to be rusticated is only to be temporarily sent out of Oxford - for a year or two, with the expectation you'll return to finish your studies later. Traditionally it did mean thatr you were forced to move out of the town altogether - 25 miles from Carfax tower in tthe centre. Being sent down is being kicked out for ever. Trust me - I know!

posted by prentiz at 2:46 AM on February 18, 2006


Oxford is on the River Thame (and Isis) which both flow into the Thames, which goes through London. So they are both upstream from London. Logically, therefore, you go 'up' to Oxford from London, so I don't think this has anything to do with it.
posted by unSane at 1:08 AM GMT on February 18


Not quite right actually.

Oxford is on the River Thames, the same river which London is on. As it passes through Oxford, it is known as the Isis, a shortening of the Latin Thamesis (no doubt an Oxford tradition). The River Thame is similarly named to, and a tributary of, the Thames.

As to going up to or coming down from, I have no definite knowledge. I suspect that unSane has it, though.
( - an Oxford resident)
posted by dash_slot- at 4:23 AM on February 18, 2006


Being "Sent Down" also means to be sent to prison.

Also within the context of the north of England, we talk about going down to London. Which definitely would support unSafe's idea of hierarchy and going "down" to a place which is more unsavory / less important than the place you're coming from.
posted by seanyboy at 5:46 AM on February 18, 2006


I grew up in the middle of Nowhere, Michigan, United States; going "up" to a city, or the lake (or a restaurant, or a big store) was very common, no matter what direction it was actually in.
posted by sluggo at 6:37 AM on February 18, 2006


"up to London" also seems to have the "up into London" variant. And there is the "down out of London" variant.

Basically you can go "into a location" if you are outside and near the the location's boundary. If you are far away then you just go "to a location", even though you are going into it.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 6:47 PM on February 18, 2006


Also within the context of the north of England, we talk about going down to London. Which definitely would support unSafe's idea of hierarchy and going "down" to a place which is more unsavory / less important than the place you're coming from.

Surely it's more to do with geography, and with the fact that 'down south' sounds better?

Anyway, unSane's on the money here: 'up to London' is a relic of the 'town and county' lifestyle, linguistically preserved at Oxford and Cambridge and other oak-panelled pillars of the Establishment.
posted by holgate at 1:21 AM on February 21, 2006


The 'up to town' / 'down to the country' distinction has been standard for a long time. There are examples in the Authorised Version: 'And the Jews' Passover was nigh at hand: and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem' (John 11:55); 'Neither went I up to Jerusalem .. but I went into Arabia' (Gal. 1:17). I expect it would be possible to find earlier examples.

It was popularised in the nineteenth century by the coming of the railways. If you were travelling to London, or another major terminus, you waited on the 'up' platform, and if you were travelling away from London, you waited on the 'down' platform. I think this is why the phrase 'up to London' suddenly becomes much more widespread after about 1850.

As for Oxford and Cambridge, Frank Stubbings's Bedders, Bulldogs and Bedells: A Cambridge Glossary (1995) tells you all you need to know. 'One comes or goes up to the University, even if travelling to Cambridge by a down train from London, or from up north. Conversely one goes down at the end of term, or at the end of one's course. While in residence one is up (at Cambridge). At the beginning of term 'Stephen is not up yet' may well not refer to sluggardliness, but only to non-arrival. 'He came up (or he went down) in 1971' means that that is when he first entered the University, or when he took his B.A. and ceased residence. Today very few undergraduates ever get sent down (expelled), though the process is still available for those who require it.'
posted by verstegan at 7:04 AM on February 21, 2006


But that's not an answer at all. Why in the world would you envision a server as a shelf, and why above you rather than below you?

Because it was the worst analogy ever...

Kind of like "master" and "slave" huh? *snicker*

*Feels very, very silly*
posted by djgh at 10:58 AM on February 21, 2006


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