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I found an amusing story titled “Lobster salad, but a key ingredient was missing” in today’s (August 11)New York Times NY/Region section.
The article reports that Zabar’s, the famous grocery in Upper West Side have sold salad delicatessen of which main ingredient is crawfish, and doesn’t contain any bit of lobster meat by the name of “Lobster Salad” at $16.95 per pound for years. It has been a very popular item to New Yorkers.

When the secret was betrayed by a reporter of The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, and soon the news widely spread through local newspapers, Saul Zabar, the 83-year-old president insisted selling lobsterless lobster salad was not dishonest at all, citing the case of a Japanese version of crab meat using pollock as the base being widely sold in Japan under the category name of “Crabmeat Resembling,” – which caught my special attention to this particular topic.

Cutting to the chase, I was caught up with the phrase, “We didn’t think that we were doing anything that was not completely up and up,” in the following remark of Mr. Zabar:

“But by then Mr. Zabar had had enough. “We really didn’t think that we were doing anything that was not completely up and up,” he said, “but there was an element that might be confusing, and with all this stuff going on, I decided now’s the time to clarify.”

Eventually he changed the name of the product.

What does “completely up and up” mean? Is this common, colloquial phrase?

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2 Answers 2

I believe the phrase you're asking about is normally "completely on the up and up" which means to act in adherence to the rules (such as laws and regulations); the use of the word "completely" implies a strict adherence [to these rules].

When a person (or organization) is not following all the rules in their activities, then it can be said that they're "not operating on the up-and-up" (although "under the table" may be a better fit in many of these scenarios).

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@ Randolf Richardson. Thank you for your quick answer. Regarding ‘completely up and up’ I revisited the original text of the NYT article to make sure exact wording of Mr. Zabar. He omitted ‘on the’ in his quote. Perhaps he preferred shortened form. –  Yoichi Oishi Aug 12 '11 at 6:33
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@yoichi Oishi: It's possible, but be careful not to rule out the news publication as well since the editors have been known to shorten things too. –  Randolf Richardson Aug 12 '11 at 6:36
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Perfect answer @Randolf Richardon as far as meaning and context (including your caveat about "completely on the up and up")! I agree: "Completely on the up..." is the typical form for that expression. –  Ellie Kesselman Aug 12 '11 at 6:53

"On the up and up" is the usual phrase, to indicate entirely honest and straightforward. This isn't quite the same as obeying all the relevant rules and laws: it's something more. Finding loopholes, obeying the letter of the rule rather than the spirit, and hiding something in the small print are all legal, but not on the up and up. So Mr Zahar was saying that he was certainly not doing anything wrong, and didn't think he was doing anything unusual (until it was pointed out to him).

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