Jun 1 2020
You might have noticed, after the past couple of months of isolation, that you can go a bit stir-crazy once you’ve exhausted all your avenues of self-distraction… Your reserves of resilience start dwindling and your capacity for patience starts drying up. I reached that point a few days ago, having managed to keep myself active prior to then by writing madly and putting together a collection of short stories. Once that activity died down, though, and faced with the prospect of increasing boredom and ennui, I went looking for something uplifting that would divert my mind, and the minds of my friends, if for no more than a few smiling moments, from the wintry, humorless cynicism that surrounds us nowadays.
Lots of time ahead, I thought, to contemplate the “post-COVID” future: the resumption of loud, vulgar, uneducated and corrupt morality; fake news, false promises, phony values, festering discontent and foolish, empty rhetoric. For the time being, ignoring “the New Reality”, I felt I needed something to exalt me, to lift me up above the bleakness in the hope I might find something or someone to look up to.
Then I remembered Peter Finch in the movie, “Network”, standing up on national television and shouting to the world that he was fed up and wasn’t going to take it any more, and I perked up immediately, remembering that people, historically, have always managed to come up with ways of uprooting threats, lifting up their spirits, and upgrading their prospects, even when they feel most powerless and ineffectual.
I remembered brightening up at the mental vision of Don Quixote tilting at windmills, and I thought about bearing up under the strain; about not giving up the ship; and about upping the ante by speaking up about my opinions and beliefs…
And then I thought about the word “up” itself, and a memory popped up about something that had cropped up about that a few years ago, and had amused me; something to do with “up” being idiomatically uplifting and astonishing in its range of meanings. So I went digging up old files while the thought of it was still uppermost in my mind, and I came up with what follows here. I wish I could say I wrote it, but I did not. To the best of my knowledge, it was written up anonymously. I’m merely bringing it up now for your enjoyment.
“Up” has more meanings than any other single word in the English language. It is listed in the dictionary as an adverb, a preposition, an adjective, a noun and a verb.
Its meaning is straightforward when it means toward the sky or at the top of the list, but after that, “up” defies classification, other than being described as idiomatic. But you put up with it because you can’t get away from it: when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake up? At a meeting, why does a topic come up? Why do we speak up, and pipe up, and why are qualified candidates said to be up for election? Why does a tie call for a toss up, and a lie, too often, for a cover up? Why is it up to the secretary to write up a report? We call up our friends, brighten up a room, polish up the silver, warm up the leftovers and clean up the kitchen. We lock up the house and fix up the old car. People stir up trouble, line up for tickets, work up an appetite, and think up excuses. And while it is one thing to be dressed, to be dressed up is special.
When it threatens to rain, it’s clouding up; when the sun comes out, it’s clearing up. When it rains, the earth soaks up the water. When it doesn’t rain, things dry up. A drain has to be opened up if it’s blocked up, but why do we open up a store in the morning and close it up at night? We seem to be pretty mixed up about up!
To bone up on the proper uses of up, look up the word “up” in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, its listed meanings take up almost a quarter of the page and can entail up to about thirty definitions, but if you are up to it, you might try to draw 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 ending up with upwards of a hundred.
I could go on, but I’ll wrap it up for now because, to sum things up, my number’s up and it’s time to shut up. What’s up with that?