‘Up’ in Arms


Early this year, the Merriam-Webster dictionary announced it had added more than 1,000 words or phrases, including fast fashion; first world problem; ginger; microaggression; mumblecore; safe spaceside-eye; wayback machine; woo-woo; and the verbs face-palm, ghost, photobomb, throw shade, and walk back. (Links go to my posts on the terms either here on Lingua Franca or my Not One-Off Britishisms blog.)

Another newly listed word — up-fake, defined as “a [basketball] fake in which a player makes an upward movement to simulate starting to take a shot” — struck a chord, as just one more in a recent onrush of new up-starting words. The main M-W definition of up-fake is as a noun, and there’s a big collection of such words belonging to this part of speech, including updo (in which my daughter wore her hair at prom), uproar, upstart, uptalk, uptick, and updocBut up-fake is also a verb (M-W cites “Leonard later bulled his way by James to the rim, up-faked and then made a floating jumper over the Cavaliers forward”), and that’s where most of the new up-words seem to me to fall.

There’s nothing new about words of this sort: uphold, upend, upbraid, uplift, uproot, upset, upholster, and upstage are all at least relatively venerable. The new thing is the pace at which they’re being manufactured and introduced to the verbal market. I recently read in my local Philadelphia Inquirer an article about a collaboration between Comcast and a solar-roof installer: “Subscribers … would not be upsold when they call Comcast for repairs.” Then within a few days, another article, about the general filthiness of sponges, referred to people “who want to upcycle a kitchen sponge for use in the bathroom.”

Also recently, I’ve come across upzone (changing the zoning in an area to allow higher buildings), upcharge (“Funeral Homes Find Ways to Upcharge Customers Who Buy Caskets Elsewhere”— headline, Consumerist), and upskirt. (The last “refers to the practice of making unauthorized photographs under a woman’s skirt,” in Wikipedia’s words, and Massachusetts, among other states, has banned it.)  Upvote means to click a thumb’s-up icon in a site like Urban Dictionary or Reddit, the origin of upvote in this screenshot:

Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 9.36.25 AM

And speaking of Urban Dictionary, this is its top definition for up-armor:

1. Verb: To upgrade, strengthen, install, or add to existing protection against weapons (usually metal plates) on the human body, military vehicle or aircraft or ships, or to fortifications.
2. Noun: The upgraded armor installed on people, vehicles, or locations. Originating in American military parlance, especially during the Iraq War, and shortened from “upgrading armor.”
  • “Soldiers were digging through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor their vehicles.”

The current up-surge is the culmination of a process that began, I’d argue, with the thing the WordPress program just asked me to do to save changes in this post: update, which was coined as a verb by Time magazine in 1948. (The noun didn’t appear till 1967.) The computer term upload showed up in 1977 and has never looked back. Upscale, a vogue adjective since the 1980s, has lately been verbed. Upgrade has been around for a while but got seriously goosed by Beyoncé’s 2006 song “Upgrade U.” Now it’s what everyone seems to want, not only in travel but every aspect of life.

I had a hunch that upstream — being a piece of business jargon as an adjective or adverb (“in or to a position within the production stream closer to manufacturing processes”–Merriam-Webster) would have been used as a verb, and sure enough, Google yields: “Let’s upstream all those debian/patches then.” (Google didn’t yield the sentence’s meaning.)

It’s all enough to make a guy want to upchuck.



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