ODO provides this definition of thereupon:

adv. (formal) Immediately or shortly after that

When I first saw this adverb, I guessed it to mean 'upon there', locatively or spatially. However, judging by the ODO definition, I erred because this adverb is temporal.

In their etymology notes, Etymonline and OED provide little explanation beyond the formation of the word from "there" and "upon."

The OED provides separate senses for the locative and temporal meanings. It attests the locative meaning earlier (c1175 compared to a1400) and also marks it as archaic, which seems to confirm that semantic drift occurred in English.

1.a. Upon that or it (of position or motion, lit. or fig.). arch. or formal.

2.a. Upon that (in time or order); on that being done or said; (directly) after that.

I know that locative words are often extended figuratively to function temporally and vice-versa. Given that the entry in OED found the senses distinct enough to mark them as separate definitions of the word, and that there appears to have been a shift in meaning from the first definition to the second, and that this shift took place within English usage specific to the word, this question is about the semantic shift peculiar to thereupon and similar to that of whereupon (which shifted from OED sense 2 to 4), not to temporal figurative extension of locative terms in general.

With that scope in mind, how did "thereupon" evolve to have what is today an exclusively temporal meaning? Why did the locative meaning fall out of use?

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    Exactly the same applies with whereupon (also usually temporal rather than locative). And there are many such combinations where a superficially locative term is used figuratively with temporal significance - hereafter, therewith. You keep telling us that you "heed the Etymological Fallacy", but many of your questions seem to be predicated on it. – FumbleFingers Jun 4 '15 at 23:38
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    You might consider thinking about a point/location in time: And there, at that point in time, he decided to sell everything and move to New Zealand. – Jim Jun 4 '15 at 23:51
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    Most locative prepositions have both temporal senses, locating events at a point (!) in time or during a span (!) of time: think of in May, on Thursday, at noon. So does upon: "Upon hearing this, John became angry." And if you will take the trouble to consult OED instead of complaining about its supposed 'brusqueness', you will find that there has been used for over 600 years to point to a fact or event as well as a physical location. – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 5 '15 at 0:08
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    There- is a combining form of all the TH- determiners; it happens to be specialized to refer to place when it's used as a separate word. In this case, thereupon means upon that, not there. Things are seldom what they seem; don't jump to conclusions -- create and entertain multiple hypotheses instead. – John Lawler Jun 5 '15 at 0:52
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    "and was shocked". Could you perhaps STOP being shocked at what you read in dictionaries? Every question you post says this: "I now know that the meaning of __ is actually __. This is very surprising to me!!" The answer is always the same "English is an utterly confused mess, so what?" – Fattie Jun 5 '15 at 3:28

The expression thereupon is insufficiently explained in etymonline. It says from a root to (see the) + adverbial suffix -r. My view is that thereupon is that + upon, which could be used with local or temporal meaning. There will always be difference in opinion about how the r was added. The simplest way to make it plausible would be a look at German: das + auf does not give dasauf, but darauf. In certain cases an s can change to r.

  • Your last line is a reference to Rhotacism (e.g. I was ~ G ich war), however there ~ G dar, dort are reconstructed with -r for Proto-Germanic and earlier; it's probably locative, cp here. Also, under, over for example go back to Proto-Indo-European, cp Lat inferior "under", superior "over", alter "other", perhaps per, pro (PIE *pr, which leaves one guessing about *p-). This answer is neither here nor there! The root is PIE *to- *te-, *so, etc, cp G da "there, then", En the, so you are not completely wrong either. – vectory Dec 14 '19 at 12:53

The evolution of "thereupon" is examined in detail in a study of historical corpora by Aune Osterman titled "There compounds in the history of English" published in Grammaticalization at Work, Studies of Long-term Developments in English.

Along with therefore, thereupon is the only other compound adverb [of the word "there"] that emerges in [Middle English] but continues into [Early Modern English] and up to the present day. The first four instances that appear in ME1[1150-1250] in the present corpus are all local in meaning: 'upon that or it'...

In ME3[1350-1420] local meanings are still foremost (58% [based on the Helsinki corpus when accessed]).

Osterman elaborates that in Middle English subperiod 3 (1350-1420) the word was sometimes used in medicinal recipes, as in this example translated to modern English:

Put paste or clay thereupon all over as told before, put burning hot honey evenly thereupon.

The first temporal meaning 'after that' is also cited in ME3, and according to Osterman's statistical analysis of the Helsinki corpus, temporal meanings were "by far" the most common senses of the word in Late Middle English through Early Modern English.

  • 1420-1500 (55% of uses examined were temporal)
  • 1500-1570 (61% of uses examined were temporal)
  • 1570-1640 (80% of uses examined were temporal)

To get back to the question, these subperiods provided above give a good impression of how the meaning of the word shifted from being primarily locative to primarily temporal.

Note also that the Middle English 3 sub-period where the temporal sense is first found ranges from 1350-1420, and specifically 1400 if we believe the attestation provided by the OED, whereas in the Middle English 4 period, 1420-1500, the temporal sense was already "the most common." This means that it didn't take long after the temporal sense of "thereupon" entered use for it to become the dominant use, beginning the eclipse of the locative meaning that is observed in the question.

Moving forward, Osterman finds a new sense of thereupon in the late subperiod of Early Modern English (1640-1710), meaning "on that subject or matter, with reference to that/it/them, thereanent." These uses were common in law texts, as in this example:

Sixty Pounds over and above the Dutyes already charged thereupon without any Deduction

The conclusion of Osterman's analysis forms a solid summary of the evolution of "thereupon" from a locative term to a temporal one.

From the first local meanings thereupon develops meanings expressing temporal relations and after that abstract or figurative usages appear. Temporal meanings prevail from [1350 to 1640] with local meanings lingering alongside of them to the end of that subperiod. In [the last Early Modern English subperiod, 1640-1710], temporal and abstract usages are present.

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