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In the context, for example, of factory production I often read the phrase "ramp up production" or "a ramp-up in production". To me "ramp down" sounds a strange phrase to use as the opposite - does anyone have a more apt antonym?

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It makes perfect sense if you are in the habit of graphing some metric as a function of time. The growing phrase is a "ramp up" and the declining phase a "ramp down". – dmckee Oct 25 '11 at 16:00
I personally use it, although I can't remember the last time. I often will say "wind down" (wind as in winding a string, not the wind makes it feel cold today) – Josh Oct 25 '11 at 21:30
Thanks for all the answers/comments/suggestions. I suppose a lot of the suggestions indicate a permanent change (wind down, down size, down scale, phase out) rather than a strategic short-term or seasonal reduction. It seems that ramp down is primarily used in technical contexts. – Matt Oct 26 '11 at 8:47
If any of the answers does answer your question satisfactorily, please do click on the tick (check) mark next to that answer, to indicate that you've accepted it. Both you and the answerer will receive reputation points for this. – EnergyNumbers Oct 26 '11 at 9:39
I've heard "ramp down" plenty of times to describe the end of a software project, in the same way "ramp up" is used at the start. I think it's fine. – Hugo Oct 26 '11 at 11:12
up vote 7 down vote accepted

The antonym for "ramp up" will depend on context.

You might use: reduce, decrease, down size, down scale, or wind down (e.g. we talk of our department winding down for Christmas - a temporary gentle slow down in office presence and productivity).

Ramp down is used in some technical settings. For example, when the grid controllers instruct a power plant to reduce its output, that's referred to as "ramping down":

On receipt of a cease instruction from National Grid the unit will begin to ramp down (i.e start to cease provision of the service and return to its pre-instructed MW)

(from a National Grid document on grid balancing)

The oldest reference I can quickly find for a metaphorical use of "ramp down" is from 1970, and again it's a technical electric/electronic reference:

When the switch changes over, the integrator output commences to ramp down towards zero volts

source: Instrument practice for process control and automation, Volume 24. United Trade Press, 1970

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In particle physics we "ramp up" and "ramp down" the current in big magnets. – dmckee Oct 25 '11 at 15:58

TO the extent that it has an opposite, I think the opposite of "ramp up" is "wind down". These sorts of idioms are not always consistent or literally meaningful.

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I've seen this word used in Breaking Bad when Walter described that their chemical work is not going to stop:

We're not ramping down. We're just getting started.

Video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyabiLNfjQw

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I'm not sure about the credibility of the source, but according to this website:

The verb "to ramp" entered English in the 14th century, and the expression "ramp up" was first applied to climbing plants such as vines. From this usage, "to ramp up" came to mean a general escalation or a rapid increase in activity.

In this case, it sounds like "ramp up" refers to a indication of growth, not a synonym of it.

If you're looking to communicate the opposite of growth, Atrophy is a good word.

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How about scale back or phase out?

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In earlier days the barrels at the harbor went down the slope (ramp) to the vessel.
To get those vessels up into the warehouse took a lot more energy..

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