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Up and down

Updated: Mar 9

“Oh, the blooming, bloody spider went up the water spout,

The blooming, bloody rain came down and washed the spider out,


The blooming, bloody sun came and out and dried up all the rain,

And the blooming, bloody spider came up the spout again.” -North 1910

For whatever, probably physical reason, humans are far more excited about the direction up than the direction down. Predictably, then, we relate up to anger, excitement, fluidity, disorder, light, speed and high pitch in popular expressions, for example “all worked up” (excited—up), “raise your voice” (up—high-pitch—anger), “raise a ruckus” (up—disorder), “raise hell” (up—hot), “have a blow up” (fluid—up—anger), “blow your top” (fluid—up—anger), “I’ve had it up to here” (up—anger), “fed up” (up—anger), “hopping mad" (up—anger), “riled up” (up—anger/excitement), “go fly a kite” (up—anger), “hit the ceiling” (up—anger), “go through the roof” (up—anger), “high spirits” (up—excited), “sparks fly” (bright—up—arousal), “rise and shine” (up—bright), “kiss and make up” (wet—up), “climax” (up—arousal), “peak” (up—arousal), “highlight” (up—bright), “raise a red flag” (up—bright—fluid), “step it up” (up—fast), “highway” (up—fast), “high speed” (up—fast), “race to the top” (dynamic—up), “high tail it” (up—fast) and “high note” (up—high-pitch). We generally treat changes in temperature, light, speed, sound and pitch as though they move from a lower to a higher vertical position as they increase. Every human culture uses references to up and down, or high and low, to describe pitch (Evans and Treisman 2010), even though there’s nothing inherent in the nature of pitch or pitch differences that have anything to do with direction, except perhaps in the brain.

These expressions also seem to indicate that the direction up is exciting and down is less so: “high stakes” (up—spiky—exciting), “raise the stakes” (up—spiky—exciting), “on the upside” (up—exciting), “fired up” (hot—up—excited), “jumping up and down about it” (up—down—excited), “upheaval” (up—exciting), “higher power” (up—exciting), “upgrade” (up—exciting) and “upset” (up—excited). The following relate lower excitement to the direction down: “settle down” (down—less excitement), “calm down” (down—less excitement), “on the down side” (down—less excitement), “down and out” (down—out—less excitement), “feeling down” (down—less excited), “low spirits” (down—fluid—unexcited), “Debbie downer” (down—unexciting), “underwhelming” (down—unexciting), “above all” (up—important) and “rock bottom” (solid—bottom—unexcited).

Other expressions of up and downwardness include “high marks,” “up to no good,” “open up,” “what’s up?,” “on high,” “top story,” “welling up,” “higher purpose,” “high hopes,” “go over well,” “over the top,” “tip top,” “rise to the occasion,” “race to the top,” “fed up,” “suck up,” “the high road,” “run into the ground,” “crack down,” “on the low down,” “under the weather,” “the bottom line,” “race to the bottom,” “back down,” “pin down,” “settle down,” “a cut above,” and “reach for the sky” and “it’s all downhill from here.”

Human interaction with verticality, or the directions up and down, doesn’t get a lot of academic or philosophical acknowledgment, but perhaps it goes unnoticed due to its ubiquity. Verticality has a grip on the mind which is apparent in the upward and downward movement of people and objects in common rhymes and stories, including, from Mother Goose, “Jack and Jill,” “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” “Hush-A-Bye,” “Hickory Dickory Dock,” “Little Robin Redbreast,” “The Cat and the Fiddle,” “The Flying Pig,” “London Bridge,” “The Hunter of Reigate,” “Pipen Hill,” “Pancake Day,” “The King of France,” “Leg Over Leg,” “See-Saw,” “Dance Little Baby,” “The Man in the Moon,” “The Mouse and the Clock” and “Goosey, Goosey, Gander,” and from The Brothers Grimm “Rapunzel," and "Jack and the Beanstalk."


Out and in


Works cited


Evans, K. K., and A. Treisman. “Natural Cross-Modal Mappings between Visual and Auditory Features.” Journal of Vision, vol.

10, no. 1, 2011, pp. 6–6., doi:10.1167/10.1.6.

North, Arthur Walbridge. Camp and Camino in Lower California: A Record of the Adventures of the Author While Exploring Peninsular California, Mexico. United States, Baker & Taylor Company, 1910.

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