I'm going down to AskMeFi to get some answers
January 13, 2012 7:06 PM   Subscribe

When do you say 'going down to X' and when do you say 'going up to X' in the context of geography? Do you have a system? For example do you say going up when you going North? For example we are going up to Sydney from Melbourne. Or do you use the rough height of the places?

This came up at a discussion in a pub and no one was really sure. Help us AskMeFi, you're our only hope.
posted by sien to Writing & Language (63 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
For me,
Up = North
Down = South
Regardless of directions, down can also mean towards the water and up can be towards mountains.
So to answer your question, I use both contexts...
posted by thorny at 7:08 PM on January 13, 2012 [22 favorites]

As a data point, I use the same terminology as thorny.
posted by thewestinggame at 7:16 PM on January 13, 2012

Up is north, down is south. Up is also east that doesn't involve any north, but west is "out". So, for me here in Kansas, Minneapolis is "up to", Austin is "down to", St Louis is "up to" and Denver is "out to".
posted by donnagirl at 7:16 PM on January 13, 2012

Thorny has it. Long distance the map rules. Short distances, height rules. (For random combinations - eg: I'm going from Sydney to Mt Hotham; or diagonals - eg: I'm going from Melbourne to Adelaide - you don't use up and down at all)
posted by finding.perdita at 7:19 PM on January 13, 2012

People have told me you're "supposed" to use north and south, but to be perfectly honest I usually use 'going up to' and 'going down to' interchangeably, FWIW.
posted by Gordafarin at 7:20 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also use thorny's terminology.
posted by pemberkins at 7:21 PM on January 13, 2012

My observation is that people in southern Ontario say "going down to" when they mean going to a more populated place/big city and "going up to" when they mean going to a less populated place. Which sometimes leads to saying they are going "down to Toronto" even if it means going north.

In the middle of the east coast of the U.S., I've generally heard people say "up"=north, "down"=south.

Up and down can also be used for east/west travel, but I don't have a consistent way of using them - probably I would say going "down" to the city, "up" to the countryside, like the Ontarians.

Within some cities (thinking specifically of New York) "uptown" and "downtown" may have more specific meanings.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:22 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my hometown outside Chicago, "uptown" was the suburb's downtown, which "downtown" was Chicago's downtown; it was just a local quirk of language to differentiate between two important downtowns, it didn't seem to have any sort of geographical referent at all.

Also, similar to LobsterMitten's but exactly backwards, Chicagoans generally go "downstate" to more rural areas, even if those areas are technically north of where they are. Also some of them go "downstate" when visiting Wisconsin (which is neither down nor the same state).

I suppose more generally in Illinois people say "up" for north and "down" for south, given that the state is pretty flat so we have no mountains to go up to. :) Reflecting on it, I think a lot of people around here say "out to" or "over to" if they're going more or less due East or West from where they are. (They go up to Chicago, down to Carbondale, but they might go "over to" Indianapolis.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:35 PM on January 13, 2012

I have heard this used in so many ways that it is hard to say one is "right".

I have definitely heard:
Up=North, Down=South for long distances
Up=uphill, Down=downhill for short distances
However, I live in a city that is bisected by a river that runs generally East/West. The land slopes up from the river in both directions for quite a distance. Anytime someone tells you to "Head up" or "Head down" one of the North/South streets, you must immediately ask for clarification because you never know how the other person uses the words.

I have also heard
Up=urban, Down=rural
Up=rural, Down=urban
Both regardless of geography. The only way to determine meaning was the context of the sentence.

I feel like my answer here is completely useless, but I'ma gonna hit post anyway.
posted by Seamus at 7:37 PM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Well, another data point. In New Jersey we go "down the shore" which (since NJ runs North South along the Atlantic Ocean) pretty much means going due East. As in "You goin' down da shore this weekend? No, maybe next weekend."

I also vaguely recall reading that people in New Orleans have a quirky way of referring to directions in their city, but you'll have to check with someone who really knows.
posted by forthright at 7:38 PM on January 13, 2012

When you travel from southern coastal Maine to Boston, you're going "up to Boston"; when you travel from Boston to southern coastal Maine, you're going "Down East." (Maine is north of Boston, so this makes no sense, though people do have some elaborate explanation that involves sailing ships and tides and blah blah blah.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:39 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and Lower Egypt is north of Upper Egypt.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:41 PM on January 13, 2012

Up = north (either real north, or the weird north some cities define as being north), uphill, to a more rural area, upstream.
Down = south, downhill, towards the water sometimes (less effective on islands, more effective near a very large body of water), towards a city, downstream.

If you are going to a rural area south of you, you can say you are going up or down to that area.

East and west are up and down only inasmuch as they are uphill, more rural, away from water, upstream, or the reverse.
posted by jeather at 7:49 PM on January 13, 2012

Another quirk of Canadian up/down use: "Upper Canada" refers to the area along the top edge of the Great Lakes, and "Lower Canada" refers to the area northeast of there, along the St Lawrence and up to northern Quebec and Labrador. This means "lower Canada" is north of "upper Canada" -- in many places, hundreds of miles north. But the regions get their names from the water flow of the lakes and the St Lawrence. The Great Lakes are further "upriver".

Like Illinois, New York State has one very large city and the rest of the state has somewhat secondary status... in the case of New York, there is New York City and its suburbs, and then there's "upstate" (which is all of the state outside the suburbs of New York City). "Upstate" New York is to the west and north of the city.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:03 PM on January 13, 2012

Our local cemetery is both north and uphill from my house, but I've never gone up to the graveyard.
posted by flabdablet at 8:08 PM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think there is, as flabdablet mentions, a certain speech pattern where you always go "down" somewhere. I always go down the street to the gas station, the neighbors house, or down to the courthouse, or down to the carnival. I can't think of a time when I'd go "up" somewhere in that context.
posted by gjc at 8:16 PM on January 13, 2012

Same as Eyebrows: in my hometown (Western Springs), uptown was the suburb's center, downtown was Chicago.

Some north/south correlation: up to Wisconsin, down to Springfield-- or Indianapolis.

We'd also go up to the lake, which fits either the outward or northward usage.
posted by zompist at 8:42 PM on January 13, 2012

Oh, and Lower Egypt is north of Upper Egypt.

Well, yeah, but civilization has since come to its senses. "Up" for south only makes sense if you can actually see the southerly location and ascertain by sight that it is in fact at a significantly higher elevation. Sorry to be all North-Pole-ist, but "up" is up on the map.
posted by bricoleur at 8:46 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

A very rough North/South mapping to Up/Down. Except, of course, that I grew up in a part of the US that almost EVERYTHING is north of, so my internal geography still favors "up". Then again, I'm unlikely to say I'm going "up to DC" from New York. Basically I'd guess that I default to "up" unless I'm speaking of something that is specifically and blatantly southwards.

Re uptown vs. downtown, as a country girl I didn't grow up with that distinction at all. New Orleans (nearest real city of my childhood) has its uptown and downtown warped by weird city orientation and local parlance, such that "downtown" is actually north of "uptown".

New York has its own extremely specific rules about this. Downtown is anything below 14th street or so, and Uptown is anything north of 59th street or so. Midtown is most things in between and is the main business district aside from the Financial District, which is almost never referred to as "downtown" even though it's geographically at the southern tip of Manhattan. Downtown is more artsy/gentrified areas like the Village, SoHo, TriBeCa, Alphabet City, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 8:50 PM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Except, of course, that "Downtown Brooklyn" is, in fact, the business district of Brooklyn and is "north" in comparison to a lot of the rest of Brooklyn.
posted by Sara C. at 8:51 PM on January 13, 2012

In New Jersey we go "down the shore" which (since NJ runs North South along the Atlantic Ocean) pretty much means going due East. As in "You goin' down da shore this weekend? No, maybe next weekend."

Weird. As a transplant to the (rough) area, I always assumed that "down the shore" specifically meant the beaches were all in South Jersey for some reason. Even though, to be honest, I'm not sure if any of the NJ beach towns I know are in northern or southern New Jersey.
posted by Sara C. at 8:57 PM on January 13, 2012

I use them interchangeably, but other people obviously do the North/South thing, and correct me when my usage does not fit.

For example:
When are we going up to Canberra? (from Sydney)
It's down, not up.

For what it's worth, I am Canadian--I'm not consciously using the down=urban/up=rural method, but maybe that's the subconscious logic!
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:13 PM on January 13, 2012

By coincidence, a character in a book I'm reading ("One Good Turn" by Kate Atkinson) spoke of going "down" to Edinburgh from London because London is the capital, even though Edinburgh is north of London.

I have no idea if people in Britain actually say this, however, or if it's just an affectation of a know-it-all fictional character.
posted by elizeh at 9:19 PM on January 13, 2012

In Japan, everything is related to Tokyo. People in Hokkaido go up to Tokyo. People in Kyushu also go up to Tokyo.

I live on a large island off the west coast of Canada. I live in Victoria, the largest city on the island, at its most southern tip. In the summer, we go "up-Island" to go camping or buy used chainsaws etc.

However, once long ago I shared a hospital room with a resident from up-Island who always talked about "going up to Victoria". It was shocking.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:29 PM on January 13, 2012

In Philadelphia, "up" is almost always north (or north as defined for that neighborhood, which can be off from real north), "down" is south. "Downtown", though, is closer to the center of the city relative to the speaker - in the suburbs "downtown" can mean the city in general, but once in the city it means Center City. My family also says they are "going into town" to mean going to Center City, even from only a neighborhood out. Now that I think about it, I would go "up to State College" but "out to Lancaster" or "out to West Philly".
posted by sepviva at 9:31 PM on January 13, 2012

You might be interested in an old AskMe on "up the street" vs "down the street." There was far less consensus on that topic than there is here.

For me up = North and down = South. I've noticed my mother using them differently sometimes ("down to NY" when she lives in Maryland.) She is very aware of directions and geography, so that was odd. When I pointed out that most people don't speak like that, she said it had to do with NY (where she would visit relatives) being an unpleasant place for her. I have no idea how conscious the word choice was, though.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:44 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I recently caught myself telling someone I was "going down to Pittsburgh" — which is north of me and at a higher elevation — but on reflection it doesn't feel like it was a slip of the tongue. "Going up to Pittsburgh" just doesn't sound like something I'd ever say.

So for me at least, there's no logic to it at all, just force of habit.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:48 PM on January 13, 2012

Canadian, and I also hew more or less to thorny's useage. I go up north to visit my parents, down to Toronto (south), and over to Montreal (east). When I was 20, I moved out to Vancouver, which I now refer to as out west. While I lived in Vancouver, I referred to my home town as back east. Native Vancouverites said out east, but pretty much never meant Ontario when they said it; to them Ontario was central and east referred to the Maritimes and Newfoundland.

However, in Vancouver as in Ottawa, downtown was north. I remember the directions in Ottawa by thinking of the Parliament buildings as the North Shore mountains. In Van, downtown was also at a lower elevation.
posted by looli at 9:52 PM on January 13, 2012

In my experience it's regional and can vary even across short distances, although there are often similarities and local oddities. For example...

In Brisbane:
  • "Going up (to) the coast" = going north to the Sunshine Coast
  • "Going down (to) the coast" = going south to the Gold Coast
  • "Going out to Ipswich" = going west
  • "Going up to Toowoomba" = further west, but uphill
  • "Going out to Dalby" = even further west, but uphill then downhill
  • "Going down to Tamborine" (a mountain to the south), but "going up to O'Reilly's" (south, but to the west of Mt. Tamborine)
  • "Going over to Straddie" = going east, over the bay, to Stradbroke Island
Then there's the local variations...
  • A southsider would say "going over to the northside" (because you cross over a bridge)(yes, they still say that even if they go under the river in a tunnel!), but "going up the coast" even though they drive over the same bridge (or tunnel) and through the northside.
  • Similarly, a northsider would say "going over to the southside", but "going down to the coast"
And then there's the odd variations...
  • Someone from the eastern suburbs would "go over to the western suburbs", but "go out to Jindalee", regardless of whether they crossed the river or not in doing so.
Basically, there's probably a core of rational reasoning for each of these - but it's likely to be a complex mix of spatial and local historical reasons.
posted by Pinback at 9:57 PM on January 13, 2012

Well, yeah, but civilization has since come to its senses. "Up" for south only makes sense if you can actually see the southerly location and ascertain by sight that it is in fact at a significantly higher elevation.

Upper/Lower Egypt is derived from the direction of the Nile's flow (south to north), and downriver (hence Lower Egypt) is demonstrably toward the Med. Most rivers on earth flow north to south, so this difference tends not to arise.

When not in Egypt, I'm in the up=northward, down=southward camp.
posted by mumkin at 10:00 PM on January 13, 2012

It's always down to the beach. It's up inland.
posted by pompomtom at 10:06 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and Lower Egypt is north of Upper Egypt.

Which makes complete sense when you think in terms of the Nile, which runs from the higher parts of upper Egypt north to lower Egypt, ie Cairo and the Delta. So upper in this case is more like upriver and elevation.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:18 PM on January 13, 2012

As an unrelated point to the one I made above:

When I lived on the east coast, we all said, "out west" to refer to the west coast. Now that I live on the west coast, the phrase is "back east" to describe the east coast. So this makes me think that the east coast is still the geographic referent here--from the east, you can out, but from the west, you go back, as if that's where we all came from (which pioneers in wagons did, but they're not the only folks who settled out here).
posted by bluedaisy at 10:20 PM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

KokoRyu -- I also live on Vancouver Island in Victoria, but grew up in Courtenay, mid way 'UP island'...

I always 'go up', whether I am travelling north or south, but when visitors are coming, they always "come down" regardless on their direction. I have been corrected on it many times, but have never kicked the habit. ???

Re going down to the ocean ... I always go down to the ocean, it is always lower down than you are.
posted by chapps at 10:25 PM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

In Canada we have lots of west and east oddness as well. For some, everything west of Ontario is west, and out here on the 'left coast', Toronto is often called the east... but the real far east is the maritimes.

Not sure if that works in Newfoundland, though, probably a completely different system.
posted by chapps at 10:29 PM on January 13, 2012

The "Up to London" from wherever you are in the UK definitely exists in my experience. I always assumed it was because of London's status as capital.
posted by merocet at 10:32 PM on January 13, 2012

Another quirk of Canadian up/down use: "Upper Canada" refers to the area along the top edge of the Great Lakes, and "Lower Canada" refers to the area northeast of there, along the St Lawrence

If you went from Lower Canada to Upper Canada by canoe you'd understand why.

Another Canadian here who says that 'up' is when you're heading to rural areas, while 'down' is when heading to urban areas. "I'm up going up into the Eastern Townships" (even though they are south-east of Montreal) or "I'm going down to Kingston" (even when heading there from Toronto).

Often though it can be swapped without anyone noticing.
posted by furtive at 10:55 PM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Barring geographical reasons to speak otherwise, up means north and down means south for me. However, going to a rural area from the city is "out" (as in "out to the farm") as is west. I sometimes also use "back east," but that's because I have spent a lot of time with a guy from Rhode Island.

Going into town from the (hypothetical) farm would be "going into town" or "going into [city]," unless it were a far flung city in which case one of the other descriptors might apply. Similarly, if I were telling you I was in a small hamlet, I would be inclined to say "I'm out at [hamlet]." At is reserved for very small places, the sort where there isn't really an identifiable town as such.

To use examples from Arkansas, presuming I'm in Fayetteville I would be "in Fayetteville" and would be "going out to Strickler." Once I was there, I'd be "out at Strickler." I would, however, "go down" to Fort Smith. There isn't much local up from Fayetteville, but since I lived on one of the highest points in town I would "go up to the house" when I was going home and "down to [whatever]" since almost everything was below me.

For me, driveways are always up if you are heading towards the house and down if you are heading toward the street, no matter their physical orientation.
posted by wierdo at 11:31 PM on January 13, 2012

My brothers and I tend to get around this by saying we're going "up south".
posted by tumid dahlia at 11:50 PM on January 13, 2012

"Up to London" even seems to be enshrined in the UK railways, where the UP line runs to London and the DOWN line away from it.
posted by henryaj at 12:17 AM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I, British, would certainly say "going up to London," although to be fair I am usually approaching it from somewhere as far south as, or further south than, it.

The exception is when travelling from Cambridge. One always travels up to Cambridge and down away from it. I expect this is just a university thing and not something that Cambridge residents unconnected with the university would say, but I'm not sure. Most of my Cambridge-dwelling friends also went to the university.

Thinking further about it, this seems like the sort of archaic detail of speech I nerdily enjoy picking up, and while this is clearly one of the ways in which I fit in more at Cambridge than in other places, even my uni friends might not say the same. I might make a quick survey and get back to this question.

In general, I would say "going up to X from Y," if X is more northerly than Y, closer to the centre of town than Y, or a larger centre of population than Y -- in about that order of precedence.

There is one particular street that a friend and I often disagree on. I say "the top of Mill Road," to mean the end that's closer to the town centre and further north. She says it to mean the end that's closer to her house. I think she's wrong but at least she's consistent.
posted by daisyk at 12:56 AM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

UK person here. I use 'up' for heading North and 'down' for heading South. I also use 'over' for east/west (i.e. I'm in Glasgow but I'll be going over to Edinburgh at the weekend. I'm not sure if it makes a difference that those two are on opposite side of the country).

I have heard up and down used differently in relation to London, as some other people have mentioned. But personally I would also say 'down' to London because I live north of it.

I also have read in (mostly older) books the terms 'going up' and 'sent down' in relation to Oxbridge universities, which may be a related phenomenon but I'm not sure of the reasoning behind that.
posted by maybeandroid at 1:01 AM on January 14, 2012

Up/down are conceptual metaphors, in addition to locative prepositions. Therefore, "up" can refer to higher formality, station or position, regard/prestige, cost, ruralness, and many other things. Down usually indexes casualness, low position, less intent, lower or covert prestige, deviousness, immorality, fun, cheap, urbanity, and many other things. These aren't hard and fast rules and sometimes words mean the opposite of what their traditional denotations are ("sick" means "tight" means "dope" means "bad" means...good). The notions of "higher/lower" here can also be mapped onto the concepts of length and distance (where higher=further/farther).

Up/down can also have different deictic origins, where "up" (or "down") can be relative to the speaker (I'm going "up" to Boston, because I'm currently in Miami), or the hearer ("I'm going "up" to Boston...because I'm thinking about how you're currently in Montreal and so saying "down" would not make sense for you), or the topic (we're talking about Miami), or the opposite of what we consider to be "down" in whatever the situation. This is related to differences in an ego-centric (people-based) view of the world vs. a geo-spatial reference (where directions are fixed based on known landmarks).

Lastly, there are situations where "up" is not defined, but "down" is (for whatever reason), so you would use "up" for the unmarked case and "down" for the marked one.

And just to confuse things, all of these sentences can be true if you switch "up" for "down" and v.v. Context and culture matters a whole lot here.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:36 AM on January 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've moved so much in the last 10 years that I can get myself very confused about all of this. I've told people, while I was standing in Seattle, Washington--from where practically everything in the U.S. is either South or East--that I was going to drive up to Utah, because my internal compass was still oriented to the SW corner of Colorado. Likewise, I've stood in Washington, D.C. and told people I was going to go down to New York City, because my internal compass was still in New England. At any rate, wherever I've lived, you always go up to the mountains, regardless of your actual direction of travel. And I think you always go down to the beach.
posted by colfax at 2:07 AM on January 14, 2012

The exception is when travelling from Cambridge. One always travels up to Cambridge and down away from it. I expect this is just a university thing and not something that Cambridge residents unconnected with the university would say, but I'm not sure. Most of my Cambridge-dwelling friends also went to the university.

The same supposedly applies for Oxford. According to endless alleged articles explaining that one "went up to Oxford" (and according to precisely zero real people I ever met), I used to "go up to Oxford" from Sheffield, which is 150 miles North.
posted by caek at 3:40 AM on January 14, 2012

Peninsulas are an exception to up=north. "Lower Cape Cod" is the outermost three or four towns on the Cape, which happens to turn north, so we go "up to Hyannis" from Truro even we're driving south.
posted by nicwolff at 4:12 AM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Growing up I thought of the train station as "up" from our house, probably because it's a little uphill. When I was old enough to read maps and realize that it was actually directly south (older than you'd think, I was kind of a space cadet), it really threw me. To this day, when I'm home visiting my parents, I still have to "rotate" my mental map when I get off the train.
posted by pete_22 at 4:38 AM on January 14, 2012

Okay, now this is bugging me. From Boston, I go up to Maine, over to Pennsylvania, down to NYC and out to the Cape. At some point in the near future I'm going to go up to Toronto, because irrespective of geography, anything in Canada would by default be considered 'up.' I go "out" anywhere west (out to Idaho, out to California.) Once I'm out west, it's over for short distances that lie generally east or west from the origin, unless the destination is in the mountains, in which case it's up. Traveling anywhere to Europe is "over" (over to France, over to the UK). I would probably also say I was going over to Iceland even though Iceland would be decidedly up.

I guess what I'm saying is: up for real or perceived north, down for real or perceived south, over for short distances east/west and to Europe, and out for going from east coast to anywhere west of the Mississippi.
posted by amy lecteur at 5:38 AM on January 14, 2012

I live in St. Louis. I go "up" to Chicago, "down" to Memphis, "over" to the East Side to visit my parents, and "out" to Colorado for vacation. Is that confusing enough?
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:53 AM on January 14, 2012

I don't think I have a particular convention about this but another, highly specific point, is that if you are going to a summer cottage referred to as a "camp" (a New England thing, maybe especially Maine?) most people say they go "up to camp," regardless of direction or elevation.

This could come from the fact that camps are often out in the woods and mountains at a higher elevation than the population centers (mostly on the coast or on rivers), or maybe because camps tend to be north of the permanent homes of the people who use them.

There's a beer called "Upta Camp" that I think was inspired by a comedy routine/album(?) by Bob Marley (the Maine comedian, not the legendary reggae artist).
posted by mskyle at 8:08 AM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my experience every locale has locals who have their own terminolgy which is not derived from any apparent system (up is north, &c.) For example I have lived in three big cities with both an uptown and a downtown and the locals all know which is which and why they are named that way is opaque to any visitor.

My system is I just use what the locals use if they use such a term and if such a term isn't in practice I don't use one. I don't go up to the store or down to the store; I just go to the store. And I might go to uptown or I might go uptown but I definitely do not ever go up town.
posted by bukvich at 9:02 AM on January 14, 2012

I use "going down" as a synonym for "going out". For example, I will go down to the grocery store, DMV, or post office, regardless of the relative location of these places. I would never go up to the grocery store.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:54 AM on January 14, 2012

In some cases "up" and "down" refer to prevalent wind direction... that's why Bostonians go "down" to Maine.
posted by carmicha at 10:45 AM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

These things are a weird almagamation of local usage and what you were raised on.

Like crazycanuck, I go "down" to the store, regardless of its location.
However, I go "over" to a friends house or to work.

Similarly, I went "down" to the city (meaning NYC or London, when I lived there, when one was South and the other East) but now go "up" to Portland(which is North) or "over" to Bend (which is East).

It's always "down" to the beach(West), but "out" to the coast(also West) but "over" to the mountains (East).

I go "back" East, but never "back" West (even though I live there now).

One goes "up" a major highway, regardless of the direction of travel. - "Go on up 47 for a bit, then turn onto 23", even if 23 is South of where you are now.

Granted, my internal compass is very confused because, despite living on the West Coast for over 10 years now, I still expect the ocean to be on my right when I'm going North.
posted by madajb at 12:37 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I should also add that we went "up" to Boston (which was East) so I can't even get the "down" to a major city part to be consistent.

Man, never ask me for directions.
posted by madajb at 12:40 PM on January 14, 2012

To throw a couple more cultures into the mix of answers:

In Hawai'i the term mauka is used for uphill, which means inland towards the volcano summit, away from the sea (this could be variously N,S,E or W depending on where the island you are.)
The term makai is used for heading downhill, towards the sea.

In Mongolia the term down is used for heading anywhere downriver according to the nearest river. As rivers can meander, this could mean any of the cardinal directions, depending on local geography. The word up is used in the opposite way.

In Mongolia the verb to go down also means to migrate from a winter home and pasture to a summer spring and pasture. This is because winter homes are typically up in the hillsides, sheltered from the winter winds. Summer homes tend to be downhill closer to the river so that the livestock can get water.
posted by scrambles at 3:19 PM on January 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thirding Eyebrows, in Flossmoor, Illinois, "uptown" meant that suburb's downtown, while "downtown" was downtown Chicago.
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:55 PM on January 14, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers folks. It seems there probably isn't a right answer for this but some heuristics that people use.
posted by sien at 4:25 PM on January 14, 2012

I am a fan of this system: "Up is north, down is south. " Mr. Getawaysticks does not use said system. This makes our directional conversations more than a little confusing.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:05 PM on January 14, 2012

This afternoon I remembered that I will also use up and down if I am talking about numbered streets: up for bigger numbers, down for smaller. If I'm on 12th I'd go up to 16th, or down to 4th. In Vancouver, this would be the opposite of the north-south up-down, but work (more or less) with the altitude up-down and the towards-away from the beach up-down.
posted by looli at 6:20 PM on January 14, 2012

I am relentlessly compass-oriented, up is north, down is south, etc. I blame Manhattan and the strict adherence to cardinal points. I was fine in Montreal where East/West referred to a street (so anything on the island called east was east of that intersection) and the town center was called Centre' Ville, but I was perpetually confused in San Fransisco cause "downtown" was usually much further north then when I was.
posted by The Whelk at 6:55 PM on January 14, 2012

Like lobstermitten, my sense of what seem most normal is to correlate down with high population density and up or out with low density. Most of the phrases I can easily recall in California fit that pattern: up to Santa Barbera, down in Los Angeles, down in SOMA, up in the Mission, out in the Richmond District, etc. But, I can't remember ever consciously using either term myself; doing do would feel artificial and weird.
posted by eotvos at 9:36 PM on January 14, 2012

Where ever I am is 'up'. Everywhere else is 'down'.

So, I'm in Sydney, I go 'down' to Melbourne. Then, I go back 'down' to Sydney. People come up to Sydney to see me.

The mountain just comes with Mohammed. Everywhere.

No one said that it had to make sense.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:10 PM on January 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older How safe is Borax?   |   Please recommend someone in Toronto who does... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.