Thursday, July 2, 2015

Let's give it UP for English!

Harry Zubkoff was a wordsmith, an original Word Nerd. He devoted the following musing in 2010 to one versatile, little word. I discovered this musing in his files of emails, as I did many of the writings on this blog.

Harry's great-nieces puckered up for this 2011 photo, taken up in Baltimore. 

English really is a crazy language and, as I have often noted, it is especially frustrating for foreigners who are trying to learn to speak it. Aside from all the idiomatic expressions, there is one word, perhaps the shortest word in English, that has more meanings or more uses than any other word I can think of. It is, of course, the word up. I will list uses that immediately come to mind, but I have no doubt that if you put your mind to it, you can probably think of many more. Anyway, here goes:

Up may mean a direction, like up to the ceiling, but it’s also used in so many other ways, like at a meeting: a subject comes up; a speaker speaks up; a member brings up a subject; another member talks up a subject; a secretary writes up the minutes; the treasurer counts up the expenses; a committee writes up a report; and officers are up for election.

We call up our kids or our friends; we straighten up a room; we polish up the furniture; we wash up before eating -- then we eat up. When we sit down we sit up; after we eat we clean up the kitchen and wash up the dishes and let them dry up before we stack them up in the cupboard. We lock up the house when we go out; we tune up the car and tune up the piano; we fix up the car even if it’s not broken.

We do other less definable things, like line up to check out at the store; go to the doctor for a checkup; stir up trouble when people are late for appointments; dress up to go out; work up an appetite for dinner; make up lies; make up time when we’re late; open up a door and close it up when we get back. We dream up excuses for not doing something, and sometimes we’re confused and mixed up about everything.

Well, I suggest you look up up in any dictionary; depending on which you use, up may take up as much as a half page of definitions. If you feel up to it, try to build up a list of your own of the many ways you can use up up. It may take up a lot of your time, but if you don’t give up, you will probably wind up with a list of a hundred or more.

Meanwhile, it’s clouding up outside and looks like rain. I can’t wait till the sun comes out and it clears up again and streets and sidewalks dry up. So for now, I’ll wrap it up, and my time is up, so I guess I’ll shut up. Now it’s up to you to follow up.

Take Harry's challenge: Can you come up with more uses for up?

In 2014, at age 92, Harry enjoyed zooming up and down the store aisles. Here he was shopping for office supplies, such as labels and tape for boxing up items he mailed regularly to family and friends. He also enjoyed opening up his own piles of mail and packages every day.


  1. This is an extraordinarily entertaining article by Harry. If you read it you can't help but smile.

  2. Les Evjen wrote:

    Deeeeeeeeelightful as Teddy Roosevelt was so prone to say on meeting new folks, discovering some new fact, or answering questions posed by the media (whom he thoroughly enjoyed). That is how I would describe my interactions with Harry when he was still with us and more so now Elaine, that you are keeping him "with us" with these snippets of his marvelous wit & wisdom.