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I've encountered this particular use in Greville Fane (1893) on two different occasions and am quite perplexed by the actual meaning as none of the meanings for that idiom given by the dictionary seem to fit very well:

  1. I spoke of her to the lady I had taken down, but the lady I had taken down had never heard of Greville Fane.
  2. I met her at some dinner and took her down, rather flattered at offering my arm to a celebrity.

The idiom dictionary lists 2 seemingly relevant uses:

  1. To lower someone's arrogance or self-esteem: The opposing team really took him down during the final game. They were so good that they took down each member of our debate team.
  2. To write something one has heard or observed: I took down every word they said so I could review the conversation later. The stenographer took the speech down and transcribed it.

1) does not seem to fit the meaning. There seems to be no malice in the speaker's words, and he stated that he "liked" one of the persons that were "taken down" by him.

2) seems like it could fit. The narrator is a journalist, so I can guess that "taking down somebody" could mean interviewing that person, but I'm really unsure, as no example in any dictionary backs up my theory. All examples I could find are similar and mention "taking down" something like a speech or a conversation.

  • 1
    @Janus Bahs Jacquet's answer is clearly correct, but I'm somewhat surprised you didn't also encounter the common modern meaning of take down as physically subdue or (figuratively and literally) completely vanquish. As in it took four cops to take down the perp or our team is going to take yours down on game day! – 1006a Jan 2 '17 at 17:08
  • @1006a I most certainly did, but the fact that the narrator was clearly not a serial killer or a cop helped with my decision to omit that meaning from the relevant meanings that I listed in the question. – undercat Jan 2 '17 at 22:11
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This is a separate meaning of the phrasal verb take down, one which is now fairly old-fashioned.

This sense doesn’t seem to be included in many standard dictionaries: Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, and Oxford Dictionaries Online all show no trace of it, and as you mention, nor does The Free Dictionary.

The OED article on take, however, does include it, as sense 8 of the phrasal verb take down:

trans. Of a man: to escort (a female guest) into dinner. Now arch.

1887   Mrs. J. H. Perks, From Heather Hills, II. xviii. 308
      A quiet dinner-party, with a nice, sensible man to take you down.

There are a few other quotes as well, but this one best illustrates the meaning, I think. Quite noteworthy, though: although the article labels this usage archaic and most of the quotes are from the 1800s, the most recent quote is from Jane Feather’s 2011 (!) novel A Wedding Wager, so it is still occasionally used.

While I have no evidence to back this up, my intuitive understanding of the verb is that down here is in essence meant literally: in traditional houses, especially the upper-class settings in the UK where such dinner parties would frequently occur in the 19th century, the dining room or dining hall was located downstairs, while the rooms that people stayed in were upstairs. If you read novels of the time, you will almost invariably see people coming down for breakfast or dinner, and this did literally include walking down the stairs at the time. If a gentlemen were to escort a lady to dinner, they would likely meet on the landing or in the hallways upstairs, and then go down the stairs together.

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    I can't believe it, I looked into two old dictionaries circa 1900, and neither had this meaning. It makes perfect sense with the context. Thank you! – undercat Jan 2 '17 at 13:57
  • The legal usage is still common if the soap researchers are doing their stuff properly. An amusingly incongruous coincidence. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 2 '17 at 16:12
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    Probably worth noting that Jane feather writes mostly regency romance, a genre of historical fiction (despite the name, it can sometimes be set up to fifty or so years before or after the British regency period). This particular book is set in the 1760s, so Feather presumably chose the phrase for its antique feeling. – 1006a Jan 2 '17 at 17:02
  • @1006a That would indeed explain a lot! It’s not a phrase you’d expect to encounter in normal, contemporary narrative. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 2 '17 at 18:32
  • The OED's example still sounds less forced than the quotes in question. I'm not sure the author's attempt at "sounding antique" is entirely successful. – Darren Ringer Jan 2 '17 at 20:12

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