The phrase upwards of X appears to be defined very explicitly to mean simply and only “more than X”. (In other words, it is an exact substitute for “north of”.)

I have a pernicious and deeply held understanding of the phrase as meaning “as much as X, but not more” or “trending upwards towards X” (in both of these cases, the quantity in question is understood to be slightly less than or maybe equal to X).

This is not merely a one-off personal error. I have informally polled family and friends, and have also polled 100+ people on Twitter, and it's clear that the understanding I have is common, if not the dominant understanding of the phrase.

I'm an American New Englander by upbringing, but I'm not sure what other context is useful. I have immediate family that swears by the dictionary definition, and others who are with me on this.

I'd be less interested if these were shades of meaning, but these are clear opposites of definition. Does anyone know what the distinction is in regions/dialects, or otherwise where this phrase comes from?

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    From my perspective it’s just a misunderstanding. There are some UK vs US differences in phrases like “nearly missed” but I don’t see anything like that for your phrase.
    – Jim
    Dec 28, 2017 at 19:08
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    'I would dismiss this as just a simple dumb long-held misunderstanding'. Yep, this site does that to a lot of people. It happens to me about once a week.
    – Phil Sweet
    Dec 28, 2017 at 19:15
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    I am from San Francisco and, until now, shared this "simple, long held misunderstanding." I can't wait to correct my friends now and tell them, "Excuse me, but I think you meant to say, 'Downwards of ...'"
    – pablopaul
    Dec 28, 2017 at 19:36
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    I wonder if this stems from the usage of "up to" or "up towards", which certainly mean "approaching, but hitting a maximum at X value" as opposed to the meaning of "upwards of" meaning "a value with a perceived minimum at X and possibly higher than X"
    – psosuna
    Dec 28, 2017 at 19:41
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    I haven't done or seen any scholarly linguistic mapping, but I've certainly traveled around New England quite a bit. I can confirm that the expression as reported has struck my ears and eyes often enough to suggest that it's at least a regional thing - more widespread than "bubbler" (bubblah) or "tonic", and possibly reaching beyond the Sox/Yankees boundary. Chee-ahs!
    – Rob_Ster
    Dec 28, 2017 at 21:07

1 Answer 1


I've always used "upwards of" to mean "at most, but close to". For example, if somebody said "the entrees at this restaurant cost upwards of $100", I would expect most entrees to be below $100, with a few at or maybe just slightly above $100. I was born and raised in Vancouver, BC.

Only today (at age 30) did somebody say to me "doesn't 'upwards' mean 'more than'?" which led me to this question.

My fiancé grew up around Atlanta, GA and uses 'upwards' in generally the same way as me.

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