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Some words (verbs and nouns) can get up- or down- attached before them to get new meaning. For example,

  1. Grade becomes upgrade or downgrade.
  2. Vote becomes upvote or downvote.
  3. Load becomes upload or download.

Is there any rule or white list of words that can be prefixed with up- or down-?

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5 Answers 5

In this case, the rule is probably best defined by "can you find it in a dictionary".

"Upvote" and "downvote" are internet neologisms. You would not use those in formal English.

"Upload" and "download" were coined in the latter half of the 20th century with the advent of computers. I'm sure they were initially considered jargon and gradually made it into the common vernacular as computers became more common.

"Upgrade" and "downgrade" are actually pretty new, too.

As far as informal writing, you can make up new words if it seems appropriate, if you want. But "up-" and "down-" are not traditional prefixes.

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Thanks! What about Upsize/Downsize? Don't sound like formal words, but can they still be used? –  Shadow Wizard Aug 15 '11 at 13:53
    
@Shadow Wizard: "Downsize" has the specific meaning of "to reduce workforce", which would be okay to use in formal writing. Otherwise, it depends on context. If you're asking if they're generally understandable: yes. –  wfaulk Aug 15 '11 at 13:56
    
Up vote originally meant to vote for something and downvote against. The internet has simply visualized this and incorperated it into the social media. –  Chad Aug 15 '11 at 17:31
    
"Downsize" can be used when you move from a larger house to a smaller one. –  GEdgar Aug 15 '11 at 17:49

There isn't a rule as such. I think there is a logical guideline to the words that can be prefixed with up or down.

If your word is a verb and it can change in magnitude in two directions, or travel in two directions, then you can prefix or suffix it with up and down.

This is not a hard and fast rule, nor will it always work, but it seems to cover a lot of your examples:

  • Grade
  • Vote
  • Load

I think these will also work:

  • Throw
  • Chuck
  • Run
  • Fill
  • Count

People will probably know what you mean. Don't expect them to though.

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"Upchuck" means, uh, something else. –  wfaulk Aug 15 '11 at 15:05
    
OK, did you downchuck your breakfast? –  GEdgar Aug 15 '11 at 17:50
    
The downfall of the Roman Empire, and the upfall of the Byzantines. –  GEdgar Aug 15 '11 at 17:52
    
@GEdgar - no one would use downfall as a verb though: "Rome downfell" or "we will downfall you." It's a fine noun. The other examples are verbs (some are both nouns and verbs.) –  Kate Gregory Aug 16 '11 at 0:30

I would say anything that is polar or directional can be up or down prefixed. Meaning anything that has two or more directions to choose from. Up generally is expected to represent Closest to the source, in front, or North. Where Down typically Repesents further, behind, or north.

There are some exceptions like downtown. This is generally considered the heart of the city. If you are already in the downtown and said you were going to go downtown your listener would probably be confused. In some places the heart of the city has moved out of the downtown area. But the area that was originally downtown is still known as downtown.

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I don't think the "down" prefix in downtown has same meaning as in my question.. there's no "uptown" for one. Or is there? –  Shadow Wizard Aug 18 '11 at 7:20
    
@Shadow Wizard - That is what i mean that there are some exceptions. going downtown and going to downtown are techincally to different things as one indicates a relative direction and the other indicates a specific area. Using downtown to mean anything other than the downtown area can be confusing. But yes uptown is generally accepted as going to a part of town to the north of your current area. –  Chad Aug 18 '11 at 12:53

People upsize their value meals too. And in the airline business, flights get upgauged - put onto a bigger plane - and downgauged - put onto a smaller plane. I have heard uplevel and downlevel as verbs, too. I think the rule, to the extent there is one, is that the core of it should be a verb that means "set the x of". That might mean using an existing verb like vote. But -size, -gauge, and -grade in this construct refer to setting the size, gauge (kinda like size only airline jargon - number of seats - two planes the same overall size can have a different number of seats), or grade of something. The original meaning of those as standalone verbs is to determine the size, gauge, or grade of things. So the noun is getting verbed as part of this process. Once you've performed that particular act of verbing you can then abbreviate "setting your x to higher than it was" into "upX" and "setting your x to lower than it was" into downX. (Upload and download are a whole different thing and don't fit this pattern. They're just jargon. See also sideload.)

Does that mean I can downweight myself if I lose weight? Only ironically. So let's also add that it has to be something done to someone or something else. A teacher could downmark you. A boss could upsalary you. These are nonstandard, but understandable in a way that upwindow or downshoe are not.

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Thanks, this give me lots of stuff to think about. –  Shadow Wizard Aug 18 '11 at 7:19

It's hard to conceive of such a rule, if only because the meanings are so disparate.

Upvote/Downvote and Upgrade/Downgrade at least have the concept of a scale on which something is going up and down, though the relationship of the action to this scale is rather unclear. But 'upload/download' are completely unobvious if you don't already know what they mean - and indeed it is common for non-technical people to mix them up.

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