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I am travelling geographically down the country from north of the city of London. Do I state "I am travelling down to London" or do I state "I am travelling up to London" in reference to its capital city status?

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@Cawas: This certainly won't apply to all languages. In some languages, you might not be able to go down or go up anything but hills and stairs. –  Peter Shor May 2 '11 at 22:59
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@Peter you must be right. Still, I think the question is broader than english. But that's not to say it is not welcomed here! ;) –  Cawas May 2 '11 at 23:01
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American usage is pretty odd here, with the uptown adjective for "fashionable", and downtown noun for the commercial district. In the UK we normally go up to more densely populated and culturally active places, though we sometimes go down to them if they're either South of current location or at a much lower altitude. But we never go downtown. –  FumbleFingers May 3 '11 at 0:01
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For the UK, this reminds me of E.E. Milne's poem containing the line: You must never go down to the end of the town, if you don't go down with me. Where would that be? –  Peter Shor May 3 '11 at 1:06
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@FumbleFingers: I believe that the adjective uptown for fashionable came from the socioeconomic geography of NYC, where up meant North, down meant South, and the most fashionable stores were located uptown from the commercial district. I don't know where the noun downtown came from; Google books seems to show that is has been around for a long, long time. Wikipedia seems to think that downtown also came from New York City. –  Peter Shor May 3 '11 at 1:13
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8 Answers

In railway parlance an up train would be heading towards London and a down train away from it. So if you were travelling by rail to London, you'd presumably be going up, as it would be absurd to go down to anywhere on the up train.

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That is specific to the railways and isn't that widely known though. I use the railways in and out of London everyday and I do not hear anyone other than staff use those terms. –  Orbling May 3 '11 at 20:34
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@Orbling, quite. This fact just pushes the question back one remove; presumably back in 1830something, somebody picked one of the two possibilities and it (perforce) stuck. –  Brian Hooper May 4 '11 at 5:55
    
Aye, more than likely. This reinforces the essential point that it is all a little random and variant from person to person. –  Orbling May 4 '11 at 6:13
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There are many traditions, with altitude being a pervasive influence (up river / downstream, up in the hills / down to the sea), and latitude also being a common factor, particularly in the UK (oop north / darn sarf [sic]).

Where these traditions conflict, it would be rather zealous to complain about any preference expressed.

Of course, you can avoid any uncertainty by restricting yourself to "I am travelling to London". To my ear, up and down sound more natural when accompanying the verb to go, rather than to travel anyway.

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Well technically, up or down have no real meaning in this context, as they do not imply a direction.

The use of the words downtown and uptown, usually refer to the condition of the area, the class of it. In London as a colloquialism, many people say "I'm going down town", meaning going to the city, Westminister, or anywhere within Zone 1 of the underground really. Then again I have heard people use "up to town" meaning London as well.

When there is significant distance involved, it tends to be up in my experience.

Occasionally, though not often, people do think that the difference is akin to heading North (up) and heading South (down); though I believe that is a less common interpretation.

TL;DR: No fixed meaning, you can go up or down to London apparently from anywhere in the country. Preferably try to use compass directions.

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What'd "uptown" mean? –  Andrew Grimm May 2 '11 at 23:34
    
Well, if you go back a fair few decades, then proper Londoners, ie. from London Town, might say they were going uptown, if they were going to the West End, ie. Westminister, a much more well-to-do area. Otherwise, see Billy Joel. –  Orbling May 3 '11 at 12:07
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It's always up to Oxford or Cambridge wherever you start from. This might indicate that it's up to somewhere impressive or desirable (which London would be to a railway company, at least). Whether the capital is one of those places depends on your view of the country, I suppose.

Also, on many Caribbean islands, 'Above' or 'up along' is on the windward side of the island, usually but not always the west. Not sure if that helps, but it's interesting.

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Similarly when you are kicked out of one of them you are "sent down" –  mgb Sep 18 '12 at 14:17
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I was led to believe that you always went UP to a Capital and DOWN from it. but you can go up the pub, down the pub, down the shops, up the shops etc. The Capital instance - along with the Oxford Cambridge one - is the only one that is an etiquette or protocol type thing, the rest is just what you feel like at the time, and you have probably said it before you've even noticed.

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My mother taught me that we always go up to the capital (London) and everywhere else depends on the direction we are traveling.

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I've always understood it to be travelling up north, down south, back east, and out west. So, if I'm travelling south to a place, I'm going down to that location.

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I don't mean that there's anything wrong with it, but "out west" and "back east" sound U.S.-specific. –  Josh Caswell May 3 '11 at 0:40
    
And this can change depending on where in the U.S. you are. In Maine, for example, down east can mean north. And up can mean south. –  Callithumpian May 3 '11 at 14:40
    
@Josh Caswell - true, that is a US perspective. @Callithumpian - 'down east' means north?! I guess my understanding is more regional that I realized. –  thursdaysgeek May 3 '11 at 21:45
    
I have heard that this expression originated in the days of sailing ships - etymonline dates it to 1825. Coastal Maine was downwind (and northeast) of Boston. So the expression down east originally comes from the wind direction. On Martha's Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts, up island is West and down island is East, I assume for the same reason (although up island is also the more expensive and less settled part, which would have formerly matched uptown in Manhattan - I can't bring myself to call any part of Manhattan less settled nowadays). –  Peter Shor May 5 '11 at 10:31
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going up to London is the saying from many years ago no matter what direction you are heading from. this is simply because it is the capitol. so up town in your own city from north,south, east or west. you are going uptown. hence London is the capital of the England so there for you are going uptown no matter what direction you are heading from..

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The word is capital dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/capital_1?q=capital , not "capitol". London is also the capital of the UK. –  Tristan r 2 days ago
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