A word that drives me up the wall

By Bob Huber: Local Columnist

Here at the Symposium for Sparkling Conversation we’re swamped with letters warning us that our mother tongue is going to hell in a handbasket. Just to show you how serious this is, we spent 10 sleepless minutes dealing with the fact that in English there is no synonym for the word “Thesaurus.”
But that’s not what we’re worried about here today. What we’re dealing with is one of the most over-taxed words in our language. That word is up.
In case you haven’t heard, up means “rising in a vertical state” — which seems clear enough to us — but up also has become an overused, redundant idiom with definitions and uses filling two full pages in Webster’s Big Old Word Book, 20th Century Edition, all 11 pounds of it.
Only the word set takes up more space, although you wouldn’t know it to look at it.
Here are some of the complaints we’ve received about up, followed by responses from our founder, Mr. Good Language, Ph.D., hoping he’ll clear up the matter once and for all.
From what he tells us, he’s frankly fed up with up, and by the end of this column, he thinks you will be too.

“Dear Dr. Language:
“I wake up each morning nervously pondering the word up because I own an upscale store in uptown Melrose. What I want to know is, how come I have to open up the store in the morning, but lock it up at night? I’m so confused, I wake up each night screaming and causing such an uproar that I shake the bed and cause my wife Hilda to upchuck from seasickness. Help me. Signed, Torn Asunder.”
“Dear Torn:
“Does anyone call you ‘Rip’ for short? Ha ha. Sorry, but I couldn’t resist that one. But concerning your query, up is a hackneyed expression made necessary in these troubled times because no one can upgrade his or her understanding of rock lyrics without it. Some examples of up are: You’re really up for the day, so you stir up trouble, line up for tickets, work up an appetite, and think up excuses, or you open up a drain that’s stopped up, or you warm up leftovers in order to clean up the fridge. And that’s just a tip of the upberg. So lighten up, Torn, and don’t bother me anymore.”

“Dear Dr. Language:
“What’s up with you guys at the Symposium for Sparkling Conversation? Aren’t we having enough trouble understanding Arnold Schwarzenegger without you bringing up rock lyrics? Signed, Wistful Vista.”
“Dear Wisty:
“Easy for you to say, because you aren’t flooded with letters and phone calls every day with dire warnings about cleaning up our act and getting more upbeat about the language. But we don’t want to stir up trouble. We don’t want to work up excuses either. Fact is, our secretary, even as we speak up, is writing up a whole book on upgrading the language. The publication date is up to the secretary. Aside from that, Wisty, you seem pretty mixed up about up. We’d clear it up for you, but doggone it, your time is up. You may pay up on your way out.”

“Dear Dr. Language:
“How can I keep up with all the changes in the mother tongue? And while you’re at it, how about clearing up all the uses of up? Signed, Eager.”
“Dear Eager:
“If you’re up to it, you can build up an up list of your own, and become an up expert like me. It’ll take up a lot of your time, but if you don’t give up and start taking up Yoga, you can write up your own column someday. That’s where the big bucks are. For instance, conjure up the weather. When it threatens rain, it clouds up, but when the sun comes out, it clears up. When it rains, it soaks up everything, but when it doesn’t, everything dries up. Now, shut up and get a life.”

“Dear Dr. Language:
“How come prices keep going up and up, and does it do any good to call up my congressman? Signed, Politically Naïve.”
“Dear Polly:
“Buck up. Get up out of bed or wherever you’ve been hiding all these years. You have to keep up with the times. But since you brought up the matter, I’ll try to update you. The reason prices keep going up and up is because folks keep buying up more and more, causing prices to go up and up even higher. That’s an old theory thought up by the first economist, Wog Sluffendorser, a Neanderthal from up in Duluth.”

So what’s up in other areas? Well, in baseball, the batter comes up to bat, while in golf, the ball gets up on the green. You realize, of course, that all of this is an uphill battle, but someone has to take it up.

Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales.