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In a recent article in New York magazine, a reporter described an entourage of politicians preparing to leave a building

" . . . we headed for the exits, and as we were all escalating down to the lobby . . ."

A survey of definitions for the verb escalate on onelook.com all reveal meanings such as

to make or become greater or more serious

Cambridge and several other dictionaries note that the verb is derived from the noun escalator, (which began as a coined trademark word that has now become the generic term for moving staircase).

A few dictionaries, such as this one suggest that the original meaning of escalate was just that -- to ride an escalator, and list a definition

to raise, lower, rise, or descend on or as if on an escalator.

All of these ride-the-escalator definitions seem to be based on one listing in Random House Dictionary.

Is an acceptance of the original meaning re-emerging? And if so, can one escalate down, which ironically seems to fly in the face of the more common usage of escalate (up)?

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Can't you accept that this was a self-consciously clever bit of writing? –  Robusto Jan 29 '13 at 15:19
    
@Robusto I could, but I want to be sure that I am not missing an emerging re-neologism (paleologism?). –  bib Jan 29 '13 at 15:24
    
You "downsculate" and a "downsculator". Seen in John Varley's work. Paired with "upsculator", of course. –  dmckee Jan 29 '13 at 23:03
    
I think this is Not A Real Question. Who ever says they escalate up an escalator? (even in constructions where they don't actually use the word escalator) –  FumbleFingers Jan 29 '13 at 23:13

1 Answer 1

Well, of course you can't, but of course he just did.

Much as chickens cannot cross a road without having their motives questioned, this is amusing because we can clearly see how he is back-forming escalator into escalate meaning "what one does on an escalator" when it's contrary to the word's normal meaning.

We shouldn't repeat the use, not so much because it is technically wrong, as because it was funnier the first time.

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Normally escalate is used only in a metaphorical sense, where it means "go up" and not "go down". If used in a literal sense, it's a self-consciously clever bit of writing, as Robusto said. Nothing neotenic to see here; move along. –  John Lawler Jan 29 '13 at 17:02

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