Two chairs like that must be worth at least a thousand pounds up in London.

I don't know what the 'up' mean in the sentence. I'm even not sure which words — perhaps either 'a thousand pounds' or 'in London' — are modified by it.

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    It is ambiguous. On first reading I thought it was saying "a thousand pounds up" -- that is to say "over a thousand pounds". But that interpretation clashes with the use of "at least" to modify the price. It's poorly worded. – Hot Licks Mar 17 '19 at 18:18
  • I agree with @HotLicks: either "at least" or "up" is superfluous: "... worth at least a thousand pounds" or "worth a thousand pounds up(wards)". – TrevorD Mar 17 '19 at 18:47
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    @TrevorD - But my point was that, on second reading, you see that it's "up in London". The old "garden path". – Hot Licks Mar 17 '19 at 19:25
  • @HotLicks Sorry, I didn't even see that meaning - but I now agree it's ambiguous. – TrevorD Mar 17 '19 at 19:36
  • @TrevorD - Getting it right is probably actually harder for someone coming in and reading an extracted sentence than reading the stuff in a book, since your eyes aren't flowing with the text, and so they tend to "jump ahead" to the phrase without first absorbing the lead-in verbiage. – Hot Licks Mar 17 '19 at 19:40

"Up" and "down" have meanings that refer to towns, cities, and other possible destinations.

Compare this meaning and example sentence for "up" in the Oxford Learners' Dictionary:

(adverb) 1. towards or in a higher position

They live up in the mountains.

The mountains are in a higher position. It'd be possible to just say "they live in the mountains," but the "up" gives an idea of relative position - they live up in the mountains compared to where the speaker is talking. (The valley? The plains? Anywhere else lower?)

What gets tricky is what precisely "higher position" is referring to. Is it elevation? Latitude? Political or economic prestige? For the last value (prestige) there is a specific meaning for "up":

(adverb) 4. to or at an important place, especially a large city

We're going up to New York for the day.

New York is down in elevation and latitude from Rochester, but someone from Rochester may well go "up to New York."

This adverb up commonly comes before prepositions like "up to," "up in," and "up at." "Down" has a contrasting meaning, and different locales or individuals may have their own idea of whether a city qualifies as "up" or "down" relative to them. (One can use both "down in London" and "up in London.")

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    Can "up" also mean northwards? – stannius Mar 17 '19 at 17:30
  • @stannius Couldn't say anything about formal use, but it certainly can in casual use. I've (in the US) seen "up in Canada" used pretty frequently. – Hearth Mar 17 '19 at 17:35
  • @stannius Yes, and in the UK, which is where London is, that's exactly what it will mean. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 17 '19 at 21:37
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit: I might be missing something in your comment, but you're aware that London is in the south east of England (and hence of the UK)? – Steve Melnikoff Mar 17 '19 at 22:55
  • @SteveMelnikoff Thank you, yes, I know where London is. There are plenty of places that are further south in the country than London; I was in one just a few days ago. But indeed the rest of us say we go down to London! The point being that, in context, the term relates to north/southness, not altitude or prestige. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 17 '19 at 22:59

I (born 1964) was brought up south of London so I have personal experience of this problem. We always went up to London. As there was no obvious altitude difference, I always assumed it meant "up north" but my dad (born 1916) assured me that London was always up. He was brought up north-west of London. He further told me that it was a rigid convention on the railways (and we would always have travelled by train) that the up train went to London and the down train came back.

The Free Dictionary supports this claim that there are two different definitions in use, and this document from the the Indian Railway Fan Club (see section on "Up and Down Trains") says

Down refers to a train travelling away from its headquarters (i.e., the homing railway) or from its Divisional headquarters, whichever is closer. Up refers to a train travelling towards its headquarters or divisional HQ, whichever is closer. [...]
In the UK, the convention was that all trains going to London were "up", and all those going away from it were "down".

I am pretty certain (from experience) that my dad was right, but equally certain that it is not common practice these days. It may well depend on direction - you might be more likely to go up to London if it were east than if it were south. I would definitely go down to London these days from where I am now in Scotland.

In short, I am sure up is definitely the direction of London, but we cannot be sure, without further context (i.e. date and location) if it meant "up north(ish)" or "towards the metropolis".

In this example, the implication is clearly that prices will be higher in London than where they are now.

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  • I concur: without disputing your anecdote, in my experience (born 1987) that is not the "current" usage of the phrase (for some value of "current"). The average individual living in, say, York, will never claim to go "up" to London. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 17 '19 at 23:08
  • Yes, @LightnessRacesinOrbit, things like this do change. I have learnt Scots Gaelic and I was taught that you always go up south and down north but I have never actually heard this usage. Everyone I know just uses the English directions! – David Robinson Mar 17 '19 at 23:20
  • I too was brought up with the understanding that all trains (from whatever part of Britain) went up to London, presumably (and this is my interpretation) because London is the capital city. – TrevorD Mar 17 '19 at 23:22
  • @TrevorD I think the change in terminology reflects a cultural shift. When the railways were young, everyone in the Empire (whether in Edinburgh, Dublin or Bombay) was expected to bow down in the direction of London and Her Majesty Queen Victoria. We don't do that anymore. – David Robinson Mar 17 '19 at 23:31
  • @DavidRobinson I was talking about the 1950s - 1970s - not Victorian times! On reflection, I think it would be more accurate to say that the "up-line" always referred to the line towards London & the "down-line" to the opposite; I don't know about lines that were going neither towards nor away from London. – TrevorD Mar 17 '19 at 23:50

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